Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Proposed Changes to the Erie County Code of Ethics

Modified: March 3, 2016 4:16pm

2/1/2016

A summary of the proposed changes:
1. Section 3: Definitions.
     a. Changes the definition of “interest” to “financial interest” and expands the meaning.
          i. Under the current law, there was a broad and ambiguous definition for interest. It defined interest as a direct or indirect pecuniary or material benefit accruing to a covered individual or his relative.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: Expands the definition to any foreseeable direct or indirect pecuniary or material benefit accruing to an elected official as a result of a financial or business dealing. It expands the definition to include lawyers working in law firms with financial interests in county government, and also updates language with regard to familial financial interests.
     b. Changes to the definition of “political party official”
          i. Under the current law, a political party official needed to earn an aggregate salary from his or her position of $30,000 or more AND perform one of seven specific duties before the political party official would be considered such under the Ethics Laws of Erie County.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: Provides a broader definition of political party official to include any Chairman, County Executive Board Member, Zone Leader, or Town Chairman. Also removes the seven specific duty requirements and aggregate salary requirement – allowing for more people to be considered political party officials.
2. Section 6: Prohibited Activities
     a. Changes the campaign contribution limits for entities with a financial interest in county business. Closes the LLC Loophole for those entities and individuals.
          i. Under the current law, entities conducting business with the county were only limited by state election law limitations on donating.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: Takes the politics out of government contracting. Limits any entity or individual with a financial interest in county government (including foreseeable interest – see above) from donating more than $5000 to a county wide election and limits the same entities from donating more than $500 to a legislative election. In addition, the Flaherty Plan closes the LLC loophole for these entities. Adopting language from the Moreland Commission recommendations, the new donation limitations would constitute an aggregate amount from all related LLCs and other business entities created by the same individual or firm.
     b. Changes the ethics law to make it a misdemeanor for any former employee to appear before any board, agency, or court on a matter in which he or she participated during his or her time in county government.
          i. Under the current law, there is no remedy for the ethics board when a former employee uses what essentially amounts to trade secrets against county agencies.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: provides a remedy and a deterrent for former employees that breach ethics laws.
     c. Prohibition on Board of Elections Employee Petition Circulation
          i. Under the current law, Board of Elections employees are permitted to circulate nominating petitions for candidate for elective office. These same nominating petitions are then submitted to the Board of Elections for review to determine whether a candidate will appear on the ballot for the election. This is a clear conflict of interest. The same people who collect petitions for one candidate review the opponent’s petitions to determine whether the opponent appears on the ballot.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: Prohibits this inherent conflict of interest and makes a violation of this provision punishable by a misdemeanor.
     d. Prohibition on Political Party Official Appointments
          i. Under the current law, there are no restrictions on political party official appointments.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: Prohibits any appointment of a political party official to any legislative or executive appointment to any agency, board, or government authority. You should not be appointed to a position in government because you have political control over a municipality and serve the County Chairman. The hiring process should be open to all citizens – not just in theory, but in reality – and the most qualified person should be hired. Preferential treatment to political party officials is unethical in practice and impractical in reality – allowing unqualified, politically connected people to take jobs because of political connections. These are government jobs that allow people to raise a family; they are not political pay outs to loyal political operatives.
     e. Prohibition on hiring relatives of political party officials
          i. Under the current law, there are no restrictions on hiring relatives of political party officials.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: Puts an end to the “friends and family” patronage machine in Erie County. Prohibits the relatives of political party officials from gaining executive or legislative appointment to county jobs.
     f. Prohibition on certain outside income for Elected Officials
          i. Under the current law, there is vague language about compensation for services rendered. It also limits the prohibition to agencies over which the elected official had “administrative discretion.”
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: Simply prohibits elected officials from any and all employment with entities and individuals which have a financial interest with Erie County.
     g. Immediate dismissal upon conviction of crime
          i. Under the current law, there is no process to deal with an elected or appointed official who is convicted of a crime.
          ii. The Flaherty Plan: If you are convicted of a crime, you lose your job. It is that simple.
3. Increased Penalties for violations of the Ethics laws
     a. Under the current law, failure to file a financial disclosure form, filing a late disclosure form, and filing a false disclosure form are all punishable by a fine of up to $10,000. There is no penalty for an ethics violation which results from the filing of an accurate disclosure form.
     b. The Flaherty Plan: A person who files a late financial disclosure form will be fined between $250 and $1,000. A person who knowingly fails to file a financial disclosure form will be guilty of a misdemeanor. Any person who files a financial disclosure form which results in an Ethics
violation is subject to a fine of no less than $500 and not to exceed $10,000 in addition to the value of any gift, benefit, or compensation received in connection to the violation. Any person who knowingly files a false financial disclosure form will be referred to the District Attorney.
4. Increased Penalties for violations of Prohibited Activities
     a. Under the current law, there are no remedies for an individual who violates the prohibited activities law of the Code of Ethics.
     b. The Flaherty Plan:
          i. Any elected official who violates the campaign contribution limits is subject to a fine of no less than $500 and not to exceed $10,000 in addition to the value of any gift, benefit, or compensation received in connection to the violation.
          ii. Any political party official or relative of a political party official who accepts legislative or executive appointment to any county job is subject to a fine of no less than $500 and not to exceed $10,000 in addition to the value of any gift, benefit, or compensation received in connection to the violation.
          iii. Any elected official who accepts employment from an entity with a financial interest with the county is subject to a fine of no less than $500 and not to exceed $10,000 in addition to the value of any gift, benefit, or compensation received in connection to the violation. 

Click Here to see a PDF of the proposed Code of Ethics.