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City ethics code changes suggested

October 27, 2018 GMT

Potential changes to Rochester’s code of ethics would extend the reach of the city’s Ethical Practices Board.

Proposed changes would allow the board to consider allegations more than a year after a suspected code violation and could add behavior concerns to the board’s oversight

Voicing support to extend the length of time between an alleged violation and a complaint from one to four years, board member Lawrence Collins sought to clarify when the clock starts.

He used the results of an April 7, 2017, complaint filed against Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik to demonstrate the need. The Ethical Practices Board dismissed parts of the complaint filed by Rochester resident Mark Bransford because related meetings occurred more than a year before it was filed.

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Collins suggested Wednesday, the timing should have been connected to when Wojcik voted to support the construction project at the center of the complaint.

“I think this is going to be a recurring thing, particularly under DMC and things we are dealing with in this city that have very long-range planning,” Collins said, noting come development projects could take more than four years.

Fellow board member Peter Amadio noted implications go beyond supporting construction projects.

He pointed out buying stock in a company wouldn’t violate the ethics code, but it could become a violation if the company has business before the council.

“You can own that stock for 20 years, but it only becomes a violation when that company has business before the city council and you don’t announce you have a conflict and you don’t recuse yourself,” he said.

While the board indicated agreement on extending and clarifying the timeline for complaints, members were more divided on a proposal made by Amadio, which would introduce behavior concerns into the ethics code.

“I think civility is important,” he said. “I think it fosters trust, it fosters collaboration, it fosters a healthy work environment, and I do think it should be included as an ethical thing.”

His suggested called for including a ban on discriminatory and retaliatory conduct, as well as actions that could foster a hostile environment.

Amadio is the husband of Bari Amadio, the Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust CEO who filed an ethics complaint against Wojcik early last year, claiming he made an effort to “intimidate and threaten” her. The ethics board upheld the complaint prior to Peter Amadio being appointed as a member, but its findings were largely based on a conflict of interest, rather than behavior.

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Collins noted the city’s ethics code was drafted to specifically focus on conflicts of interest, rather than conduct, and Board Chairwoman Faye Harris said she worries that behavior might be too subjective for the group to tackle.

“I don’t disagree with you in principle, but I guess I worry about where that line would be placed,” she said.

Board member Jose Rico added that conflict considered bad behavior by some people can be fruitful.

“There has to be room for constructive conflict,” he said.

Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos said some of the concerns being discussed are included in a new code of conduct the city council has been reviewing. He plans to provide a copy of the latest draft for the Ethical Practices Board to discuss at its Dec. 4 meeting, along with suggested revisions to the ethics code.

Once the proposed ethics code revisions are complete, they will be sent to the city council for consideration.

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