FORT EDWARD — Christmas has been saved, but the Washington County code of ethics still needs work, supervisors decided.
They’ve been trying to hammer out an amended ethics code that would prohibit supervisors from taking gifts that could be construed as bribes.
But initial wording prohibited them from accepting any gift of $75 or more — from anyone. Their spouses and dependent children were prohibited as well.
That could put a damper on Christmas and birthday presents, as well as engagement rings, cars and other expensive items that family members might exchange.
The new wording, proposed this week, would prohibit them from accepting expensive gifts “under circumstances in which it could be reasonably inferred that the gift was intended to influence him or her.”
Gifts of more than $75 given as a reward for any official action would also be prohibited.
But Fort Ann Supervisor Richard Moore said supervisors shouldn’t be accepting influential gifts at all.
“I think the only thing we should accept from those doing business with the county is a thank you,” he said.
He proposed prohibiting those gifts altogether, but only for supervisors. The code of ethics also applies to appointed officials and employees.
“We’re the ones who approve the contracts,” Moore explained.
On the other hand, department heads often recommend those contracts, said Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff.
“If you have supervisors, I think you should include department heads,” he said.
Other supervisors liked Moore’s wording on gift prohibition from those “doing business with the county,” but in legal terms, that’s squishy.
County attorney Roger Wickes noted that could include those who register a car at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The county also refunds bail and could be considered to be doing business with employees who receive reimbursement for expenditures.
“We touch almost everyone in the county,” Wickes said.
He also emphasized that the supervisors should not consider the issue a code of ethics.
“I hate the word ethics. It’s a conflict of interest law,” he said.
With that perspective in mind, supervisors sent the law back to committee to be discussed for a third time, hoping to find a way to limit conflicts of interest without making normal life onerous for the top officials in county government.