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Another Voice: Plan would help to restore citizens’ trust in county government

By Michael J. Flaherty

It seems like every week brings fresh headlines that erode the public’s trust in government. I know I’m not alone in feeling sick and tired of picking up the paper to see another politician in handcuffs, or another person in power caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Every one of these cases diminishes our faith in the political process.

As acting district attorney, I have made restoring public trust in government a keystone of our duties. First, we created the office’s first-ever Public Integrity Unit to crack down on corruption. Now, we are proposing a set of common-sense ethics reforms that will bring change to our broken system. The people of Erie County deserve to know that the officials they elect are working to protect the public interest – and that corrupt politicians are held accountable when they don’t.

The problem is that we have a system that allows power and influence to become entrenched. Political party bosses pull the strings and are rewarded with plum jobs for family members. Elected officials are allowed to earn outside income, with little oversight on how their personal business interests might conflict with county business.

If we want the people of Erie County to care about the political process, we have to show them that no person is above the law – not even the most powerful elected officials.

To start that process, I recently put forward a set of reforms that includes tougher rules for holding government and political party officials accountable and preventing waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.

The Flaherty Plan would:

• Limit campaign contributions from companies that do business with Erie County.

• Make it a misdemeanor to violate certain provisions of the Code of Ethics.

• Prohibit political party officials and their family members from being appointed to county jobs.

• Prohibit elected officials from earning outside income with anyone who has a financial interest with Erie County.

• Require the immediate firing of an elected or appointed official if convicted of a crime.

• Increase financial penalties for certain violations of ethics laws.

As a career prosecutor, I have made a solemn promise to the people of Erie County to abide by one standard of justice for all. No person, regardless of rank or affiliation, is above the law.

That is why I have pledged to follow where the evidence leads and ensure that criminal charges are prosecuted in the courtrooms of our state, in a manner that is fair, just and above reproach, without fear, without favor.

I will do all that I can to hold Erie County officials accountable, and to ensure that our government works in service to the people it represents.

Michael J. Flaherty is acting district attorney of Erie County.