ALBANY – Elected officials at the local level would be forced to disclose more about their private income if Gov. Andrew Cuomo has his way.
Tucked in to Cuomo’s 1,500-word statement on ethics reform last week was a proposal to broadly expand the state’s financial-disclosure law to include all local elected officials, regardless of the size of the city, county or town they represent.
If approved by the Legislature, all elected officials and their spouses would be forced to reveal all sources of their private income.
Groups representing local officials expressed concern about expanding the financial-disclosure requirement.
As it stands, the requirement only applies to municipalities with more than 50,000 residents.
In his statement, Cuomo said the proposal is in response to “conflicts of interest in local governments.” He proposed giving the state ethics board more authority to oversee local officials.
“Also, all elected officials – state and local – should be required to disclose all sources of income earned by themselves and their spouses,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s proposal came with little detail, but his broader ethics reform plan was released in response to a wave of state and local corruption scandals, including bribery charges brought against one of his former top aides, Joseph Percoco.
Some warned it may discourage people from running for board positions or other elected office in small towns, cities and villages, where elected officials are often paid only a small stipend or nothing at all.
Peter Baynes, executive director of the state Conference of Mayors, said Cuomo’s proposal would have a “chilling effect on the number of people who want to serve in public office.”
He said the 50,000-resident threshold “was set at that level for a reason.”
“We see no evidence that it’s not working,” Baynes said. “Why would you want to be a part-time local official receiving very little pay if you have to disclose all of your income?”
State law allows smaller municipalities to enact their own disclosure requirements, and some have.
The Rockland County town of Orangetown, for example, requires its elected officials and key appointees to disclose their finances to the town’s ethics board, even though the town is just under the 50,000-resident threshold.
“Disclosure is a positive thing,” said Andy Stewart, Orangetown supervisor. “It’s one of the basic tools for making sure that elected officials are acting in the public interest and not in their own private interests.”
Gerry Geist, executive director of the state Association of Towns, expressed concern about “home rule,” saying it should be up to the local government to decide whether to enact a disclosure requirement.
Like Baynes, Geist said the 50,000-resident threshold is appropriate. It currently applies to 21 of the roughly 900 towns in New York, along with many cities and counties.
“We believe that decisions about financial disclosure and establishing ethics boards are best left under home rule to local governments themselves,” Geist said.
Others said the policy should be more uniform.
Dick Dadey, executive director of New York City-based good-government group Citizens Union, said any disclosure policy needs to be “fair and balanced and reasonable for local governments.”
“I think it’s important to have a uniform requirement and database for such information,” Dadey said.
Michael Barker, supervisor of the Monroe County town of Perinton, said Cuomo’s proposal could create a “headache” for some local-level officials. But he doesn’t think it would keep candidates from running for office.
Perinton had a population of about 46,000 in the 2010 Census.
“I don’t think that asking for it would keep good people from running, but I don’t see the reason for it,” Barker said.
“It seems to me it hasn’t been an issue, and I know it hasn’t been an issue in Perinton.”