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Politics and Government

Oswego creates ethics board appointed by mayor

Payne Horning

The Oswego Common Council narrowly approved the creation of an ethics board Monday. The three councilors who voted against it said they supported the initiative, but disagree with the resolution's language that gives the mayor sole power to select all three of its members. Mayor Billy Barlow said that's consistent with his right to appoint people to other city committees under Oswego's charter, yet several residents like Tom Ciappa argued that this committee should be unique.

"A zoning board, a planning board have a structure above them that those people must adhere to," Ciappa said. "An ethics board does not. It will have the training and have to do certain things but an ethics board should sit above the mayor, sit above the council and ultimately serve at the pleasure of the public."

The opposition wanted the Common Council to have joint input with the may on who is appointed, similar to what the cities of Syracuse, Utica and Watertown do. They said while Barlow may not stack the board with his political allies, future mayors could. Barlow responded by saying if his intentions were nefarious, why would he have proposed the creation of an ethics board in the first place. He dismissed the arguments as nothing more than partisanship.

"It's obvious what they're -- you know, totally politically motivated," Barlow said. "They work for my opponent. They're interested in seeing me fail, making me look bad rather than moving the city forward and that's politics."

Another resident, Miles Becker, agreed with Barlow.

"I say this to you mayor: pick your people and I'll make my judgment then, otherwise this ethics thing is not that big of an issue," Becker said. "You guys are making big things out of nothing, OK? Go to Albany, they need help up there."

But resident Benjamin Kolp said it wasn't about one mayor or political party.

"This law isn't about Mayor Barlow," Kolp said. "It's about all of the mayors who follow him. The council should not allow these future mayors to unilaterally appoint ethics boards that cannot hold them accountable."

Barlow announced the ethics board members after the vote, revealing that one, Bruce Holman, was one of his campaign contributors. The board will be charged with enforcing the city's ethics code and can bring any violations to the common council.