Penn Yan board OKs ethics code update

Gwen Chamberlain

Members of the Penn Yan Fire Department who are a village trustee or a mayor do not need to recuse themselves from voting on fire department issues from which they might benefit.

Following a March 15 public hearing during which just two people — one, Tom McCormack, a member of the fire department — commented, the board approved, by a 4-2 margin, amending the recently adopted village ethics code. pending review of the situation by the State Attorney General.

Trustees Wayne Davidson and Rich Stewart voted against the amendment. Trustee Willie Allison was not at the meeting.

The amendment changes the language so a trustee or mayor who is a member of the Penn Yan Fire Company can act on issues relating to the fire department or fire company.

Three of the village’s six trustees — Willie Allison, Bart Winslow and Mike Christensen — and Mayor Robert Church are all members of the fire department. Christensen is considered an inactive honorary member.

Davidson and McCormack will draft a letter to be sent to the Attorney General by Brockman, the only village official authorized to request an opinion.

The amendment was introduced last month by Village Attorney Ed Brockman, who said his interpretation of the existing code leads him to believe that none of the fire department members could vote on fire department business.

Mayor Robert Church said he disagreed with Village Attorney Ed Brockman over the need for the amendment to the ethics code which had been adopted in December. He agreed with Davidson, who presented the 2010 code and village resident Carol Anderson, who said she felt the existing code covers the issue.

“I’m in total agreement that if there are one or two fire fighters, we would need to recuse ourselves,” he said.

But after reading earlier opinions from the New York State Attorney General and other experts in municipal law and volunteer fire departments, he has decided Penn Yan should take their advice, and follow the recommendation of the village attorney. He also supports seeking another opinion from the Attorney General.

During the board discussion before the vote, Trustee Bart Winslow, a member of the fire department, said, “­­­­I personnally started out wondering what our attorney was doing drawing up the law. After looking into it, he thinks this is the way to go. I think we’ve spent enough time, and we have enough opinions. If we get another opinion from the State Attorney General and keep digging and keep going, we’ll be a lot slower with our government than we are now.”