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QUESTIONS RAISED OVER LEGALITY OF PROPOSED ETHICS CODE <br> TOWN BOARD BUSINESS AGENDA <br> LISTS FOUR LETTERS, THREE SPEAKERS

A lawyer thinks it violates two state laws.

An influential voter alliance wants it tabled until after the November election.

And those are just two of the voices the Clarence Town Board is slated to hear tonight as it again deals with a proposed ethics code to govern the conduct of town officials.

The board's business agenda lists four letters and three speakers on the controversial code, in addition to an opportunity for comments from the audience. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

On Sept. 10, the board fanned into flames months of smoldering controversy by moving to adopt a new version of the code that had been kept secret from everyone, including the Clarence Ethics Committee.

Only one member's request to table the new version prevented adoption.

A week later, after going over some minor language changes at a special public meeting, the board indicated that another move to approve the code would probably come tonight.

But calls to postpone adoption will come from attorney Eileen Boylan, who argues that the Town Board's version of an ethics code flouts the state Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws, and from a representative of the Clarence Unit of the League of Women Voters of the Greater Buffalo Area.

Ms. Boylan, long active in town government affairs and a regular at board meetings, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, "has promised to review the code proposed . . . and to issue an opinion as to whether or not it conflicts with with these state laws."

She said she will ask the board to hold off adopting its latest version of an ethics code until Freeman's opinion is received.

"If the board enacts a law which denies the public rights it has under state law, it would invite lawsuits, each . . . costing the taxpayers money," she said.

In a letter to the Town Board, Ms. Boylan quoted from the state's Temporary Commission on Local Government Ethics, which said:

"One must never forget that the point of ethics laws for municipal officials is to improve both the perception and the reality of integrity in local government and to encourage, not discourage, citizens from participating in that government.

If an ethics law fails in those goals, it fails everything."

The Clarence League of Women Voters believes that the town has so muddied the waters with multiple versions of the code, vague language, meetings that the public didn't know about and the failure to publicly discuss substantive details that a new public hearing should be held and the vote delayed until after the Nov. 4 election.

League members also have complained that by turning over responsibility for substantive changes to the town attorney, the Town Board lost many chances to explain and justify its side of things with the Ethics Committee and the public at large.

An example, according to one league representative, was the board allowing the attorney to keep copies of the latest code secret until it appeared that the code would be adopted Sept. 10, then asking for them back when it wasn't adopted.

One of the league's main objections has been the removal of language from the code's "Standards of Conduct" section that requires a town official to disclose and refrain from acting on business that directly affects the financial interests of a family member, members said.

Other criticisms by the league include the lack of protection for people who report code violations or misconduct by town officials, confusion about what violations are subject to $1,500 fines and which are subject to $10,000 fines, and the omission of important financial questions on the annual financial disclosure form.

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