Johnstown needs ethics board

The ongoing controversy over whether Scott Miller should be sworn in as Johnstown councilman-at-large, has confirmed for us at least one thing: the city of Johnstown needs to appoint an ethics board.

On Monday, Miller was not sworn in at the city’s organizational meeting after the Fulton County Ethics Board issued an advisory opinion stating they believe his status as an employee of the Gloversville-Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Facility creates an inherent conflict with him serving as the city’s councilman-at-large. The panel has advised that part of the city’s councilman-at-large duties include serving as mayor in the event the mayor should die or resign, which Miller cannot do because Johnstown’s mayor is responsible for appointing sewer board members who oversee where Miller works.

It was highly unusual for the Fulton County Board of Ethics to weigh-in on a local municipal office, but what choice did they have, given the fact that the city of Johnstown does not have its own ethics board. Fulton County’s ethics board took up the question of Miller’s potential conflict of interest after Lt. David Gilbo placed a complaint with the ethics board in order to “keep the integrity” of an investigation of the the sewer plant by the New York state Comptroller’s office and the Johnstown Police.

Ideally, this issue could have been reviewed by a city ethics board prior to the election, prior even to the Republican Party primary, both of which Miller ran in unopposed.

The public was never given an opportunity to review the concerns about Miller’s potential conflict of interest at least in part because there was simply no official way for a member of the public to complain about the conflict prior to ballots being cast.

New Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson and the Johnstown Common Council should work to form a city of Johnstown ethics board, and give that body the responsibility of reviewing all potential candidates for city office prior to elections.

Fulton County has an ethics board and so does Gloversville. It’s time for Johnstown to join them and establish a city board capable of looking at issues related to ethics for city officials. Having an ethics board won’t solve every ethical dilemma in city government, but it will at least provide a proper venue for complaints about ethics.