The Amherst Town Board has amended the town's Ethics Code to try to make sure more people who serve on volunteer boards and committees file annual financial disclosure forms --- and to make it easier to remove those who don't.
The Town Board also has barred the use of the town seal in political campaigning, a change made after the former town supervisor used the seal in a letter endorsing a candidate for Erie County Legislature.
Members of the more significant advisory and policy-setting boards and committees in the town still must fill out a long-form statement that provides more details about the member's finances.
But the Town Board decided to let members of the remaining committees fill out a shorter form that seeks only basic information.
However, in a key change, people who fail to file the required form --- long or short --- by the deadline now will be treated as having forfeited board membership.
About 300 people who serve on boards ranging from the Amherst Industrial Development Agency to the Arts and Culture in Public Places Board are required to provide information on their property holdings, employment and any potential conflicts of interest with their town positions.
Town Attorney Stanley J. Sliwa said there previously was no procedure for booting members from boards for failing to file. That's why he recommended the new language in the code that prompts their automatic removal in that case.
Fifty-five of the 302 people required to file missed the April 30 deadline last year, but Sliwa said he believes all eventually submitted their disclosures.
Still, Council Member Deborah Bruch Bucki said, many committee members told town officials they found the long-form disclosure statement onerous to fill out.
For that reason, the updated Ethics Code splits committees and boards into two groups, with half subject to the long form and half subject to the short form.
Jim Tricoli, an Amherst resident and close observer of town government, said the long-form disclosure statement is easy to fill out and should be maintained for all committee members.
The Town Board demurred. "Right now, I think the issue is getting people to fill out the form," said Council Member Jacqualine Berger.
Members have 30 days to file an amended statement if they have a change in their status, such as a new job, and the same loss of their position would apply to missing the deadline.
For making a false statement on a disclosure form, a member faces a civil penalty of up to $10,000, or the Ethics Board could refer the matter to the Erie County District Attorney's Office.
The Town Board also created a two-year statute of limitations for those and other ethics violations.
The town seal amendment came after then-Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, shortly before Election Day last year, sent a letter with the seal that endorsed County Legislature candidate Guy R. Marlette.
But first, the town needs to settle on one official seal.
Sliwa told the board there are at least five variations of the seal in use. The Town Board on Monday directed the town attorney to draft a local law designating one version as the official seal.