The Board of Ethical Review has concluded that City Council and Matt Horn violated the Code of Ethics, but the City was in no hurry to make the report public.
**Please read the previous Geneva Believer article “Exclusive: City Officials Investigated For Ethics Violations” if you haven’t done so already.**
As outlined in the prior article about the alleged ethics violations by city officials, I filed an ethics complaint against City Council and the City Manager in November 2016, and the Board of Ethical Review completed their investigation in January. According to the Geneva City Code, those findings are supposed to be reported at the first Council meeting following substantiation (which would have been February 1st). However, I was told the Ethics Board that the findings were “under legal review,” and that I should contact the City’s attorney for updates. After doing so, and being told the investigation would not be discussed at the March Council meeting, the City’s attorney Emil Bove told me on February 23rd:
“We will advise you, the ethics Board, and the Council whether the Complaint will be discussed at the April meeting.”
I waited for a notification regarding the April meeting, but I received none, and the findings of the investigation were not discussed at the April meeting.
On April 23rd, I sent the following email to Bove, as well as City Manager Matt Horn, Mayor Ron Alcock, City attorney Mike Mirras, and the Ethics Committee:
I never received a response to my inquiry.
At the May 3rd, 2017 City Council meeting, the City Manager discussed the findings of the investigation.
The City Code does not require city officials to notify the complainant of a date when the findings would be made public. However, the city attorney responded to my requests for updates, until it was decided that the findings would be released, at which point I was ignored.
It’s also important to note that the report of the Ethics violations was made by the City Manager at the end of the City Council meeting. Not “near the end,” but literally as the last item mentioned in the entire 5-hour marathon meeting, immediately prior to the meeting being adjourned. At the conclusion of the discussion, Horn stated that the reports from the Ethics Committee would be available at City Hall for anyone who would like to stop by and view them. The reports apparently will not be available on the City’s website.
Readers are invited to check out the entire 5-page report at the following link:
Report of Ethics Committee: December 3, 2016 Complaint Against the Geneva City Council and the City Manager Concerning Public Notice of Sale of the Waterloo Tract
Here are a few of the highlights:
Regarding the lack of public response until after the lakefront sale:
“At the December 7, 2016 City Council meeting…a number of Geneva residents spoke critically of the process that the City had followed leading up to the sale…Some residents made the point that the land on the lake side of 5 & 20 is known by the City to be important to the residents of Geneva and that when no one spoke at the public hearing on July 13, 2016, the City Council should have found that very odd and should have understood that the City’s notice to the public of the proposed sale was not sufficient.”
“While the residents of Geneva surely have the obligation to be informed, this was not the case of Geneva residents looking the other way and/or not paying attention and then coming in at the 13th hour to cry foul. This was, in the Committee’s estimation, sincere surprise and bewilderment by Geneva residents who thought they were paying attention and quite literally had no idea that the property to be voted on at the November 6,2016 City Council meeting was a parcel on the lake side of 5 & 20, immediately adjoining the Seneca Lake State Park.”
Regarding the conclusion by the Ethics Committee that the City Manager and City Council violated Tenet 7 of the Code of Ethics:
“Geneva residents could indeed pour over the Agendas and the Minutes of the June and July meetings as well as the Agenda of the November meeting and have no understanding that the property at issue was a parcel that could reasonably come within property they consider vital, or at least important, to their previously stated interest in green space and the lake front.”
“In short, the references to the property tax parcel as well as references to “City owned” or “Waterloo Tract,” individually and combined, did not convey significant and meaningful information to the people of Geneva. Because of the lack of information publicly available to the residents of Geneva with an interest in green space and lake front property, and because even the most interested and engaged citizens were unable to appreciate the details of the transaction, the Committee has concluded that the City failed to “share substantive information with the public that is relevant to a matter under consideration” and, as a result, violated Tenet 7.”
What’s It All Mean?
First, hopefully City Council and the City Manager will be more careful about keeping the public properly informed on future issues.
Second, it’s important to realize that every resident of the City of Geneva has the option of reporting an ethics violation, and the Ethics Committee must investigate the report.
We all need to become familiar with the City’s Code of Ethics, which provides guidelines for the actions of every city employee and elected official.
If you suspect a violation of the Code of Ethics by a City Councilor or Council appointee, you may contact a City Councilor, the City Clerk, or the City Attorney of the violation, but in this writer’s opinion, contacting the Board of Ethical Review is your best course of action.
If you suspect an ethical violation by a city employee, you may report it to the City Manager or the city’s Director of Human Resources.
THIS IS IMPORTANT, FOLKS. We often find ourselves sitting back and pointing out actions of city employees and officials, complaining about the behavior, and then throwing up our hands and assuming that nothing will be done.
Get involved. Pay attention to what’s going on in the city. If you think the Ethics Code has been violated, report it. It can be done anonymously, and requires very little investment of your time.
It’s up to ALL OF US to hold our city government accountable.
Councilor Camera Ethics Investigation Results
In addition to the violation by City Council and the City Manager, the final report on the investigation into alleged ethics violations by 4th Ward Councilor Ken Camera have also been made public. You can read the entire 21 page report at the following link:
Report of Ethics Committee: November 14, 2016 Complaint Concerning Conduct of City Councilor Robert K. Camera
In short, Camera was found in violation of 7 different tenets in the Code of Ethics.
The initial complaint was brought against Camera by Mayor Ron Alcock “on behalf of himself and other City Council Members.”
You won’t find an in-depth review of the Ethics Committee report here at Geneva Believer, for a few reasons. First, I trust that most readers can take the time to read the 21-page report on their own, and that they don’t need someone to summarize it for them. Second, outlining the details related to each of the seven individual violations and putting them in a blog post would take a significant amount of time and effort, which I feel would be better spent following up on other city-related stories. Third, I think that while Camera’s actions may have been in violation of the ethics code, Mayor Alcock and his fellow Councilors could have used the opportunity to have a discussion with Camera and the rest of Council, rather than filing an ethics complaint against him.
If there are any readers who would like to write an article related to the Camera ethics report, please contact the Geneva Believer newsroom.