New Ethics Board Pushes For More Accountability In Utica Government
If there is one word to describe the goal of the City of Utica's Ethics Board, it would be transparency.
Ken Roser and Ron Gaetano are two of the five members appointed to the recently called for Board. The completely volunteer group is unpaid, but works with departments to find discrepancies and settle matters between the public and the government.
Some early issues impacting the committee include the range of power given to the members. Gaetano says their recent meeting in April was largely dedicated to learning the definitions of their roles.
"I've looked at it, and I've asked Corporate Council to give me some clarification of certain things," Gaetano said. "For example, when you hear the word that you have subpoena power, to me that's power. When you use subpoena power, you have to go to the City Council to say we'd like to subpoena. We're doing an investigation. That indicates that the people twenty years ago who established this wanted it to be a buffer for or to help government work better."
But, he says the power doesn't translate to an ability to fire. Rather, it comes with the opportunity to make recommendations, something that the city government can take into account when performing their own actions.
"In other words, the ethics board is playing by the form," Gaetano said. "It's playing by the rules it set up for itself. We can't be above everybody else, as far as proper procedures."
Among the forms established are the ethical complaint forms found on the City of Utica website and in the lobby of City Hall. Questions are modeled in simple terms to ensure that confusion is left to a minimum, and must signed and physically brought to the Corporation Council office.
"You can't just arbitrarily send in a form," Roser said. "In other words, even though they are online to make it as accessible to the public as they can be, you still have to literally sign the form in order to submit it. You cannot submit it electronically. If you have a complaint, you'll be required to both provide us with information, evidence and research, if you will, then sign that complaint so that we know the complaint in and of itself is bona fide."
Roser also says the Board's success is directly connected to restoring faith back into the city's government.
"We think that the people need to feel good about their local government and that it does things for the right reasons, they are good stewards of their money and make the proper decisions," Roser said. "It starts with having people start to believe that their voice counts in government."
The group has also vowed to meet on at least a monthly basis, as it continues to gain a foothold in the community. By making the committee more visible in the Utica, the Ethics Board says people will become comfortable in approaching them with issues.
Gaetano expressed concerns that years of unaccountability have left the City of Utica in the unenviable position of a town with a bad rap. An Ethics Board could be the first step in making positive change in what used to be called the Handshake City.
"When I moved back, I must have heard a hundred times something that people in Utica must learn in first grade," Gaetano said. "First thing they say when they don't recognize you and you're new, is 'How you doin'?'" It'd be nice when you come back with 'we're doing just fine."