The current Amherst Town Board may be the most cooperative and functional group of elected leaders the town has seen in years, but several members got downright testy when they were asked to approve a formal board Code of Conduct recently.
"We, as board members, have a responsibility to come up with resolutions that benefit the town," said Council Member Steven Sanders. "And to me, this isn't something that's going to make the board any more effective, nor is it going to make future boards any more effective -- and I just think it's a waste of time."
Council Member Richard "Jay" Anderson and Supervisor Barry Weinstein supported a code of conduct that stated that board members would do things like "work as a team," "appreciate the value of diverse opinions and opposing views," "take on their share of work" and "support the final decisions of the board."
Weinstein said the Code of Conduct resolution was patterned on his own experiences as a member of the Williamsville School Board. Both he and Anderson said the resolution was meant to protect town residents against future boards that might be less agreeable than the current one.
"I think it's important for future boards and future board members to understand that there's an expectation of working together," Weinstein said.
Both he and Anderson referred to the board that existed three years ago, before any of the current members were serving.
"Elected officials who serve with the best of intentions are out there," said Anderson, who sponsored the resolution. "But some officials grow into their own ego and into serving their own special interests, and that's not what we need in the Town of Amherst."
But the resolution got blowback from otherwise cooperative colleagues, who seemed annoyed, insulted and/or concerned about the measure.
"We're not here to all get along," said Council Member Mark Manna. "We're here to work together to get things done, and I think if you do have a board that doesn't get along, this silly Code of Conduct is not going to stop that. The voters will ultimately decide whether they accept the conduct of their elected officials at the next election cycle."
Council Member Barbara Nuchereno said that while the concept was honorable, there were "insinuations" that board members could consider offensive. She also worried that the resolution could be wielded as a political weapon and was completely unenforceable.
Sanders added that elected officials shouldn't be treated as children.
"It's a bunch of fluff," he said. "I think this is a very nice, feel-good resolution, but it's nonbinding on future boards. They can disregard it, and there's no teeth to this as it stands. If somebody doesn't follow all these rules, are we going to kick them off the board?"
Council Member Guy Marlette echoed Manna's sentiment that voters are the ultimate arbiters of good behavior, as evidenced by the fact that no one from the board three years ago is still in office.
He recommended the Code of Conduct resolution be shortened to a four-paragraph "mission statement." The amended resolution was adopted, 4-2, with Sanders and Manna voting against.