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Erie County Legislature unanimously passes new ethics bill

There is going to be more transparency in Erie County government under a new ethics law approved Thursday by the Legislature.

While the law passed unanimously, there have been doubts about the new rules, replacing a code three-decades old.

After several years of bargaining, the code was put together by Democratic Legislator Tom Loughran and Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo with County Executive Poloncarz. It now goes to the county executive for his expected signature.

Legislature Chairman Peter Savage said there are new rules identifying relatives on the payroll or with government contracts.

"Under the law, there's a definition of close family that needs to be disclosed, so whether it be employment or interest in contracts with the County of Erie, that is required to be disclosed," Savage said. "You're also required to disclose property that you own or close family as defined in the law needs to be disclosed."

The new code also tightens the rules on gifts to county officials, dropping it from $75 to nominal. That covers tickets to charity events,  awards of honorary sports memorabilia or gifts from one family member to another.

"It also limits gifts and things that people can receive in terms of limiting their value to a nominal value and just, basically, increases transparency to what we do here in county government," said Lorigo.

The Ethics Board also will be expanded by three members, who will be politically appointed. Loughran said the changes are positive.

"There have been problems, but I think this strengthens the Ethics Board," Loughran said. "The disclosure forms are more transparent and it hasn't been updated in over 30 years, so there was a lot of technical issues that were resolved."

The proposal was recently changed after comments during a public hearing and objections from members of the Ethics Board.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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