Thursday, 04 May 2017 18:31

Milton Residents Support Town Ethics Rules

MILTON — A solid majority of residents who spoke at a public hearing Wednesday about the town’s Code of Ethics opposed making changes to the code that have been proposed by officials.

“For some reason, this has stirred up quite an uprise in the Town of Milton,” observed Supervisor Dan Lewza at the outset of the May 3 public hearing, which was attended by nearly 50 local residents.

The hearing was scheduled on the heels of a vote by the town board in April to appoint Megan Soden, a Republican Committee member, to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Language in the Milton Code of Ethics explicitly prohibits active political party and committee members from serving on voting boards in town government.

Lewza said Soden “has not participated in zoning board meetings” and will not do so until the matter is resolved.

Lewza and Councilwoman Barbara Kerr, who voted against Soden’s appointment citing the ethics code, said they had agreed earlier in the week to postpone a formal vote until the five-member Ethics Board has reviewed proposed changes to the code’s language.

More than 20 people spoke at the public hearing, and nearly all of them opposed such changes.

Local resident David Beals said keeping the ethics policy as is will prevent political parties from having “too much say” in Milton, as they did before the current code was established in 2010.

Bernadette VanDeinse, a Republican Committee member, was among a minority of people who voiced support for Soden’s appointment, as well as the proposed changes before the town board.

She said current ethics rules have been “misused” to suppress numerous people who desire service in town government. “I do think this has been hurting our town and holding us back,” VanDeinse told the board.

“That’s irrelevant to the purpose of the ethics board,” responded the next speaker, Carl Hackert, a longtime registered Republican in the Village of Ballston Spa. He reported that a family member brought a formal ethics complaint to that board in years past. Hackert claimed that “a whole new generation of people do not respect” the town’s established ethics policies.

If the Milton Town Board goes forward with the proposed code change, Hackert added, it could have negative impacts for Republicans at the ballot box in the future. “It’s going to show up in the fall election,” he said.

When Soden herself took the podium, she vowed to “step down” from the Republican Committee if the town board does not approve changing the ethics code. Her only motivation, Soden said, is to ensure the code “is equitable for all, not just some.”

Lewza informed six-year Ethics Board member Ben Potter that there would be no “time frame” to review the proposed changes and make a recommendation to the town board.

Lewza closed the sometimes-contentious public hearing on a positive note, thanking so many local residents for showing up to raise their voices.

“This is what’s good for democracy,” the supervisor said. 

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