Column: Look before you leap, City Council

It is fortunate that the public hearing on the City Council’s latest foray into the field of ethics is as far off as Sept. 11, of all dates. They need that much time to think about what they did on Aug. 5.

On Aug. 5 the City Council laid down some ethics rules and then cut the feet out from under them by authorizing “waivers” that would allow the rules to be violated by favored individuals.CareyColumn

Waivers would be granted by the city manager and/or the Board of Ethics. No criteria are specified to guide these officials. Therefore, they could be arbitrary and play favorites or settle grudges in deciding whether to grant or deny what could better be called “dispensations.”

Who ever heard of making a rule and then letting it be violated at the whim of some bureaucrat? Such a regime runs afoul of two fundamental principles that are well-known, and not just to law school graduates.

The first principle the council is ignoring is equal protection of the laws, enshrined in both the federal and state constitutions. People in similar circumstances must be treated equally, not in a discriminatory fashion. Anyone paying attention during the past 50 years must be aware of this basic aspect of our American system of justice.

The second principle being ignored is that rules must be clear, not vague. Vague to the point of nonexistence are the circumstances under which a waiver/dispensation might be granted by the city manager and/or Board of Ethics under the council’s formulation. No criteria seem to have even been seriously mentioned.

There is plenty of time between now and Sept. 11 for the council to do some soul-searching and legal analysis. If they do not, then anyone aggrieved who has standing to sue could put these issues before the New York State Supreme Court or the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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