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Ethics Board Delays Hearing Complaint Against PAB

Patti Singer

City Councilmember Mary Lupien, right, listens as Jack Mottley speaks in support of her during a meeting of the Board of Ethics July 13, 2021. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The city’s Board of Ethics delayed hearing a complaint against the Police Accountability Board at its July 13 meeting.

The board was scheduled to hear the complaint against Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds and members Rabbi Drorah Setel and Shani Wilson over their presence at an event at which anti-police slogans allegedly were chanted.

Reynolds and Setel attended the Ethics Board meeting to hear the complaint against them, which was the second agenda item. But the board, scheduled to meet from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., ran about 30 minutes over on just the first item – a continuation of the hearing of a complaint against City Councilmember Mary Lupien related to an email she sent from her city account.

Both sets of complaints were lodged by the Police Locust Club. The complaint against Lupien had been amended, and the board delayed hearing the amended version.

All three items are expected to be on the August agenda.

The seven-member Board of Ethics, appointed by City Council, renders written advisory opinions to city officers and employees with respect to the City’s Code of Ethics and Article 18 of the General Municipal Law. The board consists of one City Councilmember, a department head or other city officer or employee of equivalent rank or title designated by the mayor who serves as secretary, and five other members who are not city officers or employees, Of those five, not more than three can belong to the same political party. City Council President Loretta Scott is on the board.

Matters are brought to the board by written request of any city officer or employee or upon the initiative of the board. Any opinions rendered by the Board are forwarded both to the requesting person and the affected city officer or employee and filed in the office of the City Clerk.

Requests for advisory opinions and the opinions are available according to provisions of the Freedom of Information Law and the City Charter.

The board also may make recommendations to the City Council about amendments to the Code of Ethics – and that possibility received plenty of discussion in the ways a public official could share information in a way to avoid an appearance of bias.

The Locust Club initially lodged a complaint that Lupien violated ethics by using her city email to share talking points for an organization calling for a federal investigation into the Rochester Police Department over potential civil rights violations. The issue was whether by doing so, the councilmember showed preference for one group over another.

Lupien and three people who spoke on her behalf said the role of an elected official is to advocate for the public good. But board chairman Carl Steinbrenner brought the discussion back to whether one particular group would receive an advantage when an agent of the city used official resources to send out information about its point of view. Steinbrenner and other board members said that use of personal email would not pose the same potential ethical issue. The board spoke only as part of the discussion, not in the capacity of rendering an opinion.

Board of Ethics meetings are open and there are provisions for public comment. The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 10.

The July 13 meeting was the second meeting, and first in-person session, of the year. Meetings from January through May had been canceled and the June meeting was held via remote access.