Dozens of individuals who serve on boards and committees in Amherst are at risk of being removed from their posts for not filing annual financial disclosure forms, as required by a local law.
The law requires approximately 302 town officials who are elected and appointed, paid or unpaid, to file an annual financial disclosure statement with the town clerk's office by April 30. That deadline was met by all but 55 individuals, or 18 percent of those required to file.
Those who failed to file are mostly members of little-known boards and committees that operate quietly and behind-the-scenes and wield little power, such as the Amherst Veterans Committee, the Glen Park Joint Board and the Open Government Advisory Board.
But the town's Ethics Board has recommended that the Town Board at its next meeting on June 5 remove the delinquent filers from their posts.
"The financial disclosures when properly and truthfully completed and filed provide important protections for the town and its residents from innocent conflicts of interests to criminal influence peddling," Ethics Board Chairman Kevin M. Maley said by email. "Transparency in government at all levels, now more then ever, must be demanded of all town officials whether elected, appointed, voluntary or paid."
The Ethics Board also made a recommendation that all future appointments be conditioned upon the filing of the financial disclosure form within 30 days of the appointment. Failure to file within 30 days of appointment and annually would trigger an automatic removal of that person from their respective appointment, board and/or committee without the need for additional action.
The short financial disclosure questionnaire is two pages and includes eight questions.
One question asks: "Do you receive any benefits, compensation or other consideration that are derived directly or indirectly from your employment or association with the Town of Amherst, other than your remuneration from the Town?"
Williamsville attorney Daniel J. Ward authored the town law while serving as supervisor in the early 1990s because of what he saw as rampant conflicts of interest and influence peddling between town officials and developers. He made the local law more strict than a state law enacted at the time.
"Nobody on the Town Board really wanted either one, because they were having too much fun the way things were," Ward said.
Ward said he's pleased to see the Ethics Board taking action, after years of inaction.
"At least they've thrown it back into the laps of the Town Board," he said. "Now what are they going to do?"
Councilwoman Debbie Bucki, who has taken a lead on the issue, said this is the first time she can recall the Ethics Board enforcing the local law's requirements since she joined town government in 2006. But she's not ready to start removing people.
Her recommendation is that delinquent filers be sent "a warning letter" informing them that the form is due to Town Hall by July 5.
"Let's see who remains after that," she said. "I think at the July 17 meeting then I would concur with the outcome and recommendation of the Ethics Board to have them removed from the committee service they're engaged in."
After the April 30 deadline, 13 people filed their financial disclosure forms, including the chairman of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, Carlton N. Brock Jr., who submitted his statement on May 16, which Amherst IDA Executive Director David S. Mingoia called "just an oversight."
That leaves 42 individuals, or 14 percent, who have yet to file. Maley said it's up to the Town Board to decide if those who filed late should be considered compliant with the law.
Compliance this year has improved from last year. The Buffalo News reported in late March that 30 percent had failed to file their disclosure statement for 2016.
The Ethics Board failed to meet for many years prior to 2016, but has ramped up its activity since then. The Ethics Board was without a chairman and was not properly populated as required by town code to allow it to meet and fulfill its function, said Maley, who became chairman in 2016.
"The Town was for all practical purposes operating without an Ethics Board," Maley said by email. "As a result the financial disclosure filing requirements remained unenforced and town officials along with volunteer members and appointees treating it more as an unnecessary nuisance rather than an obligation with the possibility of severe civil and legal ramifications. The least of which could be removal."
Amherst boards & committees members who had not filed financial disclosure statements as of Friday, according to town officials:
- 9/11 Commemoration Committee: Leonard Castrianno, John R. Kasmer
- Amherst Committee on Disabilities: Cheryl Geary-Rothenberg
- Amherst Community Diversity Commission: Dilip Sinha, Noel Daniel, Tehsheng (Abby) Ma, Toni Vasquez
- Amherst Conservation Advisory Council: Conn Keogh
- Amherst Veterans Committee: Mark G. Farrell, John G. Medwid
- Arts and Culture in Public Places Board: Anthony Vitiello, Sharon Rich, Joshua Pennel
- Board of Electrician Examiners: Joe Hoehman
- Board of Plumbing and Drainage Examiners: Frank Grandinetti, John S. Militello
- Employee Suggestion Review Committee: Jonathan A. Fuzak
- Employee Suggestion Program Merit Award Board: Josephine Borrillo
- Energy Conservation Citizens Advisory Committee: Ethel Petrou, James (Jay) Zgoda
- FOIL Board: Roy DeFrancis M.D.
- Glen Park Joint Board: Christopher Bonaventura, Catherine Zimmerman, Michael Kerrigan, David McIntyre, Tara Cadmus, Douglas Richardson
- Government Study Committee: John J. DiPasquale
- Historic Preservation Commission: Paul F. Redding, Jitendra Vaidya
- Information Technology Advisory Committee: Murali A. Thoota, Darryl Chapin
- Library Board of Trustees: Marjorie A. Zelman
- Minority/Women Owned Business in Amherst: Angie Kleeh, Deborah Kilbourn
- Open Government Advisory Board: Roy De Francis, Samuel A. Alba, Michael Brown
- Recycling and Waste Committee: Donald J. Kuhn
- Senior Services Advisory Board: Beverly Fish
- Youth Board: Bobbi Sedor, Shanon L. Hylkema Jacobs
- Imagine Amherst Committee: Jim Cwierley, Bob White, Carl Montante Jr., David Chiazza, Bart Roberts
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