Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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April 11th, 2013

Ethics Reform in Sullivan County

Plagued with one scandal after another, Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a drive to clean up Albany. On Tuesday Cuomo proposed landmark legislation that would raise the bar and bring sweeping ethics reform to our statehouse and those who do business there.

Surprisingly, this comes on the heels when our Legislature will be holding public hearings slated for Thursday April 18, 2013, and voting on legislation creating a “Sullivan County Ethics Law.”

Now is the time for our legislature to show they are serious about true and meaningful ethics reform. This is their opportunity to seize the moment just as Governor Cuomo is doing in Albany, and finally break up and put a dent into the closed door elitist network better known as the “Ole Boys Club” that has been in control of Sullivan County.

Ethics reform should not be about whether or not legislators can receive campaign donations of just $250 or more, but should also pertain to those people who sit on boards that receive county funds. The time has come for full disclosure of these board members.

The short lived Economic Development Corporation dissolved because board members refused to participate in disclosure requirements. It is now an advisory board with no disclosure requirements. Amazing – Isn’t it?

The public has a right to know if board members benefit personally for their businesses, and/or family members, by sitting on boards funded in part by county (taxpayer) funds. The public should also know what businesses are benefiting through taxpayer (county) dollars and what their connections are to elected officials and board members who sit on these boards. Who are their lobbyists, accountants, and attorneys? What are their connections? It is time we connect the dots and start to solve the puzzle we all know exists.

Let us not kid ourselves – there are those who sit on boards because it benefits their financial interests one way or another. Some serve in various capacities both in the public and private sector while simultaneously wearing several different hats. There is an obligation for these people to be honest and upfront with the public. Even though what they are doing might be legal, at the very least, they are giving the appearance of impropriety and being unethical.

The claim that we are a small community and only the same people will step forward to serve on boards is pure hogwash. Good people who care and want to serve their community are often alienated by the stronghold this inner circle has. And, yes there are those who serve on boards because they truly care and are dedicated individuals.

Former New York State Appellate Justice Anthony Kane along with former County Court Judge Burt Ledina recently spoke before the legislature with their recommendations for true ethics reform in Sullivan County. They said it was up to legislators to see how far they wanted to go.

Kane noted sometimes a person has to make the tough decision if they would rather serve the public in an elected capacity or as a board member, or be a businessperson in the private sector. He rightfully claimed those who want to do both can instead volunteer their time without being on a board or serving as an elected official.

He noted that even if someone recuses themselves from a vote on a board because of a personal conflict, there is still the perception that fellow board members are friends and allies with other board members and they will vote along the way that person wants. Wink, wink!

Legislator Alan Sorensen has been a vocal advocate for ethics reform for years only to fall on deaf ears. As our former our planning commissioner and as an elected official he could get a lot of business in Sullivan County, but Sorensen chooses to conduct his business outside of Sullivan County because of his own ethics and standards.

If legislators were required to disclose their business interests in Sullivan County, as they should, they probably would have to decide either to continue to serve in the public arena or protect their financial interests and resign because of perceived conflicts.

It will be intriguing to see just how far this legislature really wants to go with ethics reform and what each individual legislator’s spin will be on the matter.

Legislators might proclaim “In a democratic society, even the appearance of impropriety may significantly undermine the public’s confidence in the officials who serve them,” and that “The Legislature further finds that establishing standards of conduct for elected and appointed officials, officers and employees of the County of Sullivan shall help improve the perception and reality of integrity in local government.” It remains to be seen if the actual ethics law will be written to fulfill such goals or just make a good headline.

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