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Walden leans toward empowering ethics board

December 26th, 2012

“I do not think it is a bad thing they are asking for,” said Trustee Sean Hoffman during last week’s meeting of the Walden Village Board. “It makes sense and gives more confidence in the village as a whole.”

The board has been discussing a recommendation by the village’s Board of Ethics to give them investigative powers including the ability to subpoena persons and documents. The issue of whether their purpose should remain advisory (issue opinions as to whether a future action proposed by a village employee or official is ethical) or expand to judicial (investigate allegations of misconduct by employees or officials and render opinions and/or penalties) has become the all-important question. Last week they continued the discussion with a report from the village attorney as to research he had conducted with local municipalities.

Attorney Austin Dubois noted that in Cornwall their code states they can levy penalties up to $10,000 and conduct investigations, however the Village Board retains the discretion over whether the Ethics Board can issue a subpoena.

After some discussion, the majority of the Village Board agreed they would like to look into expanding the Ethics Board’s purpose.

“What other venue is there for the public?” asked Deputy Mayor Susan Rumbold.

Dubois stated that short of a subsequent election or the power of the press, the public did not have another avenue to address perceived misconduct and asked if the board was looking to create an impeachment process.

Hoffman recommended that the board consider the recommended policy change prepared by the Ethics Board and their attorney, rather than start from scratch or create an impeachment process.

Hoffman and other trustees made several suggestions, including clarification of the penalties that the Ethics Board could impose, removing the requirement for trustee involvement in starting an investigation and setting limitations on the costs the Ethics Board could incur, among others.

It was agreed that they would look at it more closely and discuss it again at their next meeting with further suggestions for their attorney.

The Village Board also discussed the possibility of providing commercial garbage pickup through their service provider, IWS. In the company’s recent bid to provide the service for the next year, they included a proposal for commercial pickup which they believe would provide businesses in the village with an average savings of 37 percent each month.

Rumbold noted that the village has had some issues in the past with the company, which has provided residential pickup services. A representative from the company assured the board that with over $100,000 invested in the contract with the village (containers), they would provide great service.

If the board decides to go forward with commercial pickup, all businesses within the village would have to participate. A letter was to be sent out this week to all of the commercial properties advising them of the possible move and asking for feedback. The board anticipates voting on the move at their Jan. 8 meeting.

A request from Hometown Bank regarding their sign was also at issue last week. The sign is one of the few, if not only, signs that remains illegal after the recent amendment of the village’s sign law. The bank has requested that their sign be grandfathered.

“The issue is you cannot have an internally lit sign with our current code,” said Building Inspector Dean Stickles.

Stickles said the sign was grandfathered until it was altered to reflect the new name and faceplate. He advised that the bank could fix the sign by turning off the internal illumination and putting up external lights to shine on the sign, ask the ZBA for a variance, or ultimately pursue an amendment of the local law with the Village Board.

Illumination should be coming soon elsewhere in the village, as according to Village Manager John Revella the contractors have been selected for the work to fix the streetlights on the bridge and all of the work should be done before the New Year.

The Village Board voted after some discussion, to approve pay increases for employees including the village clerk and village manager. Rumbold was the sole opposing vote, noting that raises are usually done as a part of the budget process to give the public opportunity to comment where the impact on the budget is evident. She felt that making the move would be setting a poor precedent.

“I have no problem rewarding people for jobs well done,” said Rumbold. “I’m against because of policy.”

Rumbold did note that the increase for the village manager was previously agreed in negotiations with his contract, and thus did not have a problem with that increase.

In other business, the board discussed the possibility of changing the hours of the polling location from a 6 a.m. start time to a 9 a.m. start time. It was noted that only six votes were placed in that time period during the last election, however there were no heavily contested races.

While some trustees felt that 12 hours was sufficient, others worried that residents in the village that commute would be unable to vote.

“The last thing I want to do is disenfranchise voters,” said Rumbold.

The board voted 4-2 to keep the same hours.

The Village Board left the public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan open to January 8. No comments were made during the meeting.

The board also voted to schedule Tri-Board meetings for next year on the first Tuesdays in May and December.

By Rachel Coleman

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