For the second time, Plattsburgh common councilors have tabled a proposal offered by the mayor that would establish a Code of Conduct for city leaders, department heads and employees.
Plattsburgh’s mayor wants the city to look better. Not physically but rather governmentally.
Early last year city leaders took heat for eliminating four departments and laying off department heads. Late in the year, first-term Mayor Colin Read and Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly were caught on an open web stream disparaging city workers and town officials.
It hasn’t stopped. There have been a number of staff resignations including one city councilor who cited a lack of transparency and hostile working conditions. Last month, the Press-Republican obtained an email from Councilor Kelly in which he wrote that he “rejoices at the low city employee morale” because it would weed out those who had “retired in place.”
In the wake of that latest ferment, Mayor Read submitted a proposed Code of Conduct at the May 3rd council meeting. It was tabled until Thursday night’s meeting – when it was again tabled.
Under the proposal councilors and staff could not “disclose decisions, resolutions or report contents from any meeting until a decision has been made for the information to become public.” While that section does not specify who makes the determination, the document later states “All communications are subject to scrutiny by the Mayor’s Office at any time.”
Ward 4 Independent Councilor Peter Ensel says he’s undecided about the proposal. “I think that much of what is written in the Code of Conduct, proposed Code of Conduct, is covered in the Charter as well as within the oath that we all took as elected officials. Also within the charter there’s the establishment of an ethics commission. I think we’ve all taken an oath. We do have the Charter and the ethics commission which should be in place to handle these issues.”
Ward 3 Republican Dale Dowdle says NYCOM regulations, the City Charter and code address the issues in the proposal. He says neither he nor his constituents find the proposal palatable. “I’ve been contacted by more citizens, taxpayers, constituents, whatever you want to call them, on this issue than anything in the four years that I’ve been on the council. They’re opposed to it. They think councilors should not be stifled. It’s being called the Code of Silence. I think it limits some of our authority, the council’s authority. There’s sections in here when compared to the Charter I feel dismiss the Charter.”
Mayor Read says there is very little in the city charter that actually addresses code of conduct issues. “The particular aspects of conduct and mutual responsibilities really rest within one sentence in the Charter. So to flesh out that broad statement into much more detail so people can truly understand their mutual rights and responsibilities I think is completely appropriate.”
Read says most of the proposal was drafted, with permission, from Vancouver, Canada’s Code of Conduct.
On Saturday May 12, Mayor Read emailed that quotes from the proposal are taken from an earlier version. Now at Version 7 it is "..still on the table for modification and debate." He also noted: "This document is undergoing constant change, as the process was designed to do."