The Town Board has adopted a new ethics law, one making clear that elected officials are covered by the town’s employee conduct policies, and creating the position of ombudsman to review employee complaints about workplace conduct.
“We want the public to know we are holding ourselves to a higher standard,” said Town Councilman Timothy Dunn, chairman of the Ethics Code Review Committee, after the unanimous vote on Monday.
The new law makes clear that ethics rules apply to employee conduct, as well as the kinds of potential financial improprieties that have historically been the target of ethics laws.
The review committee was appointed in January, and issued its report last month. Dunn said the panel’s purpose wasn’t to rehash the recent past, but its formation followed several years in which former town clerk Flo Sickels was at the center of misconduct allegations.
Sickels resigned in December after deciding not to seek re-election. The Town Board had called for their fellow Republican’s resignation last June, after the town agreed to a $100,000 federal court settlement with a former deputy town clerk who claimed there was a “hostile work environment” under Sickels, who denied any wrongdoing.
Sickels, who was town clerk for 23 years, was dogged by allegations of doing political work for the Republican Party or herself in her town office and requiring her deputies to perform political work.
The previous town employee manual stated that elected officials were not subject to the manual’s policy, which Dunn last month called a “huge gap.”
The new code eliminates that exemption. The new law also creates the position of ombudsman to hear employee complaints about the workplace or misconduct, though it isn’t yet clear who would hold the position or how it would function.
A new section of the ethics code states that town employees creating a hostile work environment, interfering with the work of others, being abusive or retaliating against others is prohibited conduct, on town property and at all town-sponsored events.
Serving on the committee with Dunn were Deputy Supervisor Darren O’Connor and Town Attorney Thomas Peterson.
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