Current County Ethics Rules Fail to Meet the Moment;
Recommendations include New Comptroller Position, Freedom of Information Mandates, Ethics Reporting Updates, Board of Ethics Composition, Rules on Party Leadership Positions, and Public Hearings for Public Contracts;
Under One-Party Rule, A Greater Need for Transparency and Accountability.
Dan Branda, the Republican candidate for Westchester County Legislator in District 4, today announced a comprehensive ethics proposal to amend current county law.
“Our current ethics rules, which were written just a few short years ago, fail to meet the moment,” Branda said. “Over the past year, we have seen a number of scandals from the Westchester County Board of Legislators, as well as conflicts of interest where no-bid contracts are awarded to favored donors. In politics, these scandals sadly happen as some elected officials are tempted by their personal ambitions and loyalties. The people are the last line of defense, and this collection of proposals will make it easier for us to hold our government accountable.”
Branda added, many of these proposals are born from his personal frustrations over the last several months tracking information that should be publicly available. Many additional proposals were researched and developed by Branda during his good government advocacy as Policy Director of Reclaim New York, which sought to make local government more accessible to residents.
If elected, Branda intends to introduce each of these ethics recommendations as separate items of legislation:
- On annual financial disclosure forms, elected officials and certain high-ranking appointees, cannot redact financial information or addresses.
- Elected officials who earn outside income from clients–including real estate attorneys like BOL Chairman Vedat Gashi, and small business owners like Branda–must disclose their list of clients as part of the annual financial disclosure forms.
- Elected officials cannot receive an extension on their annual disclosure forms, and can face more severe consequences when disclosures are delinquent.
- Elected officials and county employees in a policy position cannot hold outside employment with other government agencies in conflict with their official duties. They cannot be appointed to positions with other governments in which they serve at the pleasure of a single elected official.
- Elected officials cannot be District Leaders for any political party.
- Elected officials and certain political appointees serving at the pleasure of a single elected official cannot hold office with any political party.
- No employee of a County vendor who works exclusively on county contracts may be an officer for any political party.
- New public union contracts require a waiting period and a Public Hearing before they can be advanced by committee to a full vote of the Board of Legislators.
- Board of Ethics members are limited to 1 consecutive term so they are not beholden to any elected officials for their re-appointment. They can be re-appointed after sitting out 1 term.
- Limit the County Executive’s influence on the Board of Ethics by allowing appointments from the District Attorney, the Majority Leader of the Board of Legislators, and the Minority Leader of the Board of Legislators.
- The recusal requirement for legislators is absolute. Currently, legislators do not need to recuse themselves from a vote if their recusal would prevent legislation from passing.
- Codify in law, outside the rules of the Board of Legislators, that elected officials cannot send mass communication mail when they are declared candidates.
- Widen the Board of Ethics’ jurisdiction to investigate campaign finances, eligibility for office, and criminal and civil complaints–similar to the Congressional Ethics Board. It is a conflict of interest for branches of government to investigate their own members.
- Create the elected position of Comptroller, who will be in charge of the county’s Finance Department and have the third vote on the Acquisitions & Contracts Board currently held by the Budget Director.
- Require the County to maintain a public database and dashboard of public records that are currently available under Freedom of Information, including all reports. County departments will be required each year to submit a list of records, approved by the Board of Legislators, that should be added to the public database.
- Require that the Board of Legislators maintain a database of annual grants awarded as budget amendments, including the organization’s address, contact information, and principle employee.
- Require that Freedom of Information requests be fulfilled, not just acknowledged, within five business days as intended by state law, unless extensive research or administrative work is required. Extensions for fulfilling Freedom of Information requests must be approved by the County Attorney and communicated to the requesting party in writing.
- Records Officers authorized to fulfill Freedom of Information requests must make independent decisions and cannot consult with supervisors.
- All Board of Ethics meetings shall be live-streamed and the videos archived and accessible online.
- The Board of Ethics shall present the Board of Legislators with an annual report, which will be available on the Board of Legislators website. The report shall include all advisory opinions issued by the Board of Ethics, plus recommendations for new ethics laws, and also include minority recommendations.
- The Board of Legislators must consider all recommendations from the Board of Ethics as new legislation, and each recommendation must at least be considered and voted on during a meeting of the Legislative Committee.
- All members of the Board of Ethics must have contact information available online so that whistleblowers and anonymous informants can reach out to individual board members with information.
- The Board of Ethics must accept and respond to advisory opinion requests from the public at large.
- The Board of Ethics must accept public comments on their agenda at each meeting.
- When receiving a credible ethics complaint, the Board of Ethics must initiate an investigation within two weeks of receipt, and the initiation must include a projected calendar. The complainant must be offered the opportunity to provide testimony and answer direct questions from the Board of Ethics.