Back in the spring we offered qualified praise to the City of Lockport for strengthening its code of ethics. Now, unfortunately, we have to take some of that praise back.
Only a few months into the new code, the Board of Ethics is already backpedaling on key reforms while at the same time seemingly becoming more transparent. But appearances shouldn’t fool anyone.
As reported in The News, the Common Council voted last week to amend the code of ethics that it passed April 23.
Some of the adjustments include making it legal for city officials to hire their first cousins for municipal jobs.
Municipal officials and employees are barred from taking part in decisions to “appoint, hire, promote, discipline or discharge a relative for any position,” and the code included a lengthy list of those considered relatives.
Watering down that clause raises the question of whose first cousin is about to be hired. And the list of relatives does not include in-laws. Certainly, there should have been more open debate about the matter.
For example, the revised code corrects a major flaw by making Board of Ethics meetings subject to the state Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Law. That should have been the case from the start, but the code still allows the board to go into executive session to discuss matters pertaining to individual city employees. That is what the board does, and is a way to circumvent the Open Meetings Law.
The code of ethics also says that the city clerk is to maintain a “confidential” file of the board’s opinions. Time will tell how closely board members adhere to their commitment on the Freedom of Information Law.
Before this spring the Board of Ethics hadn’t met in years. Rejuvenating it with a new code of ethics was long overdue, but the latest changes are a disappointing step back.