[Author's Note: The Town of Milton announced that its Ethics Board will hold a public meeting on Monday, April 17 at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held at Town Hall, 503 Geyser Road, Ballston Spa, NY 12020. Questions can be addressed to Ryan Isachsen at 518-288-3018.]
MILTON — At its regular meeting on April 5, the Milton Town Board voted to violate its own Code of Ethics on the condition that changes would be made to accommodate a new town officer.
Milton Supervisor Dan Lewza advised the town attorney to review the ethics code and determine the proper changes. A public hearing would have to be held for the town board to formally approve them.
Lewza did not return a request for comment regarding when either the public hearing or such a vote would occur.
The April 5 vote followed a presentation given at a previous town board meeting by Megan Soden, who was approved as a new member of the Milton Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Soden is also an active member of the town’s Republican Committee.
“No town officer or employee shall hold any office in a political party or political organization,” reads Section 14-15 of the Milton Code of Ethics. “No town officers or town employees shall serve as a committeeperson of any political party or political organization.”
Other sections of the code pertain to town officers’ actions and the appearance of impropriety; use of position for personal or private gain; treatment of the public; disclosure of interest in legislation; holding investments or being employed in conflict with official duties; use of municipal property; nepotism; and more.
At the town board’s March 15 meeting, Soden had argued that her constitutional rights would be violated if she were denied any town position as a member of the Republican Committee. Her comments elicited a round of applause from board members and supporters in the room.
“There are many people that want to be involved” in town government but they are “handicapped” by the ethics code, said Anna Stanko, who chairs the Republican Committee in Milton.
The existing code was passed by the town board in 2010 after being revised and is enforced by a five-member Ethics Board. They are among about 25 people in total who comprise Milton’s governing bodies.
Members of the ethics board serve three-year terms, and they are empowered to review complaints, issue subpoenas and obtain records directly related to all town employees and officers. Board members also must adhere to the code’s strict confidentiality rules throughout the process of investigating complaints.
In addition, the ethics board is empowered only to “recommend appropriate disciplinary action” to the town board, which must then vote to actually do so.
“To me, ethics is all about appearance...and we should take the high road on it,” stated Councilwoman Barbara Kerr, who voted against the motion to appoint Soden as a ZBA member on April 5.
“I think she’d be fine on any board. I think she’d be a great addition,” Kerr continued. Yet the proper route for Soden would have been to “resign from the committee,” Kerr added, before the vote that approved her spot on the ZBA.
Prior to the 2010 revision of the ethics code, according to Kerr, a committee of town leaders was convened over the course of a year and thoroughly considered every aspect. “It wasn’t something they took lightly,” she said.
“Our ethics code still stands. If the board votes to change it, that’s fine,” Kerr concluded. “This is the law of the town.”