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After a gap of more than two years, Clarence government apparently will have a Board of Ethics again, beginning next month.

Members of the town's new ethics board will be named at the Town Board's annual organizational meeting Jan. 7, Councilwoman Anne L. Case, Town Board liaison for ethics, said last week.

And if the Town Board keeps a promise it made in October, one of the new panel's first orders of business will be the so-called "cottonwood tree" complaint against the town engineer and the chairman of the Landscape Committee.

In that case, Town Engineer Stephen A. Cislo's next door neighbor, Charles A. Gerber, has accused Cislo of trying to use his influence as a town official to make Gerber cut down a cottonwood his son gave him on Father's Day 20 years ago.

Gerber has kept after town officials to settle the matter since the incident occurred in July. On Oct. 22, the Town Board said the matter would be referred to the new ethics board.

Mrs. Case said that so far, the Town Board has informally agreed on six of the seven prospective appointees. Their names aren't being released yet, she said.

Clarence hasn't had an ethics board since it disbanded an inactive five-member panel and began rewriting the town's 1970-model Code of Ethics in September 1995. A critical state audit that raised questions about business dealings involving three town officials prompted the Town Board to call for a more comprehensive code.

The task of rewriting the old code was given to a nine-member citizens committee. Last February, the committee submitted a strong code in plain, easy-to-understand language. After months of controversy over changes that the study committee claimed weakened the law, the Town Board adopted the ninth draft -- by then, converted to legal language -- on Sept. 24.

The call for volunteers for the new ethics board didn't trigger a flood of applications. On Nov. 19, Mrs. Case complained that there were only 10 applicants for the seven spots, eight of them Republicans. No more than three members of any one political party can serve on the ethics board.

However, Mrs. Case said new calls for volunteers by Friday had pushed the total to 25 -- 12 Republicans, nine Democrats, one Conservative, one Independence Party affiliate and three independent voters.

The cottonwood tree controversy stems from a letter that Gerber received in July from Roy V. McCready, chairman of the landscape committee and the town Planning Board. The letter, later disavowed by the Town Board, told Gerber he should cut down the cottonwood in his front yard because it was a neighborhood "nuisance."

Officials said they determined that McCready wrote the letter at the request of Cislo, the town engineer and Gerber's next door neighbor on Melinda Drive. Gerber promptly accused Cislo of abusing his power and influence as a town official.

In October, Gerber submitted a written complaint, alleging that Cislo and McCready violated the town's 1970 ethics code, in effect at the time of the incident.

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