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Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board Issues Advisory Opinion Regarding Reimagining Public Safety Process, Chair Releases Statement on Process

The Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board (EAB) has issued an Advisory Opinion in response to a complaint letter received in May of 2022 containing allegations regarding Reimagining Public Safety initiatives at the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County. The Advisory Opinion was issued by a vote of 4-0, with Chair of the EAB Rich John abstaining.

All relevant documents including the Advisory Opinion and May 2022 complaint letter can be found online at:

The Advisory Opinion provides a review of the issues raised in the complaint letter, detailing the areas under investigation, the factual information developed, and the conclusions reached. The Advisory Opinion proceeds in order of the questions presented in the complaint letter.   

The Tompkins County EAB is required by New York State law to investigate and issue an opinion for municipalities within the County that have not established their own board when an applicable complaint is made. The City of Ithaca does not have an ethics advisory board or similar body to take up such complaints. The EAB contains five members, four of whom are unpaid volunteer County residents, and the Chair is a Legislator appointed by the Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature.

Advisory Opinions from the EAB are to provide guidance to local governments regarding their established ethical requirements. The Tompkins County EAB does not carry the force of law. Advisory Opinions are generally made available to the general public in addition to officials at the relevant municipalities.

Legislator Rich John, who chairs the EAB as appointed by the Chair of the Legislature released the following statement regarding the EAB’s process:

This independent system to investigate complaints is an important element of our democratic government. The Tompkins County EAB serves the people of our community, for that reason the board hopes that the Advisory Opinion is read and considered by City and County officials as well as the wider public.

I wish to note that during the course of the investigation, the Ithaca City Attorney and employees of People For The American Way (“PFAW”) made certain allegations that I had certain conflicts of interests preventing his participation in this investigation. TCEAB thoroughly reviewed those allegations and concludes they have no merit. Nonetheless, to remove even the appearance of a conflict and to avoid undue collateral attacks on this investigation, there are four other independent volunteer members that have voted in favor of the advisory opinion. For this reason, I will abstain from voting today.

Our task was to consider and investigate the complaints brought forth and issue an Advisory Opinion that is meant to provide guidance to local governments. I feel that our board did that with integrity and I am proud of the process that we followed.

I deeply appreciate the dedication and commitment of the individual members of the Ethics Advisory Board – they are citizens in the best sense. We had perfect attendance in the 20 meetings we held over the nearly yearlong process. In this inquiry, the Board was presented with a detailed and expansive set of questions to address. We reviewed a substantial number of City and County documents, received written responses from many individuals and organizations involved, and conducted interviews with several of the individuals involved. Throughout, these volunteer, unpaid Board members recognized our responsibility, remained engaged, and maintained the open minds necessary to work through the volume of work and any disagreements that arose.

I would also like to recognize our counsel, Paul Ferrara of the Syracuse law Firm, Costello, Cooney & Fearon, for his professional guidance and advice. And finally, on behalf of all of the members of the EAB, we wish to express gratitude for the assistance of our Legislative Clerks who made this process work.