TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board is being charged with reviewing multiple allegations of ethics violations related to City of Ithaca personnel involved in the Reimagining Public Safety process, namely former Mayor Svante Myrick.
Tompkins County Attorney Bill Troy issued the opinion on Monday that the Ethics Advisory Board should pursue the investigation stemming from a request made by City of Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock. Troy’s opinion does not verify that the allegations are true, but validates that they should be investigated.
There is no timeline for completion of the investigation yet. Myrick’s name is not included in Troy’s opinion. Though, he has been the main subject of the allegations as raised by Brock.
Brock announced on April 28 that — among other allegations — she had asked the Ethics Advisory Board to investigate Myrick’s role in payments made by third party entities to the members of the Reimagining Public Safety (RPS) Working Group in charge of providing recommendations on how to develop and implement the new Department of Community Safety, as well as other major reforms of the RPS plan passed by the City and Tompkins County in March 2021.
Without a formal board or body from within the City that would issue an advisory opinion on the allegations, Troy wrote, “it is the County Board of Ethics which must evaluate requests to render opinions concerning issues about how a governmental organization […] has conducted its officers as alleged herein.”
The County’s Ethics Advisory Board is chaired by Legislator Rich John (D-District 4). The City of Ithaca does not have its own ethics review body, as noted by Troy, which is why the responsibility falls to Tompkins County’s board.
These payments stem from the Park Foundation and the Dorothy Cotton institute. The Park Foundation made $20,000 available “for operating support to compensate participants,” which passed through the Dorothy Cotton Institute onto the working group members. The Dorothy Cotton Institute made an additional $15,000 available to members of the working group.
The Park Foundation issued a statement to The Ithaca Voice, that “The Foundation had no part in deciding who received payments or any other components of implementing the grant. We trust this phase of the process added valuable input to the plan that was produced and adopted.”
Myrick told The Voice that the City of Ithaca was initially approached by The Park Foundation. The Park Foundation stated that, “it did not provide stipends to those engaged in the Re-Imagining process, nor to the city. We provided a grant to the Center for Transformative Action (CTA) for project support for Dorothy Cotton Institute (DCI) after receiving a grant proposal that focused on lifting up the voices of those directly impacted by the Reimagining process.”
The co-leads of the working group, Eric Rosario and Karen Yearwood, each received $10,000 of the third-party funds for their work in the group. These payments, and any others, were never shared with the Common Council. Third party payments with volunteer workers is considered a violation of the City of Ithaca’s ethics policies, as articulated by Alderperson Robert Cantelmo on April 28.
Former Mayor Svante Myrick previously said he would be glad to cooperate with any ethics investigation into the Reimagining Public Safety process.
Myrick has labeled the call for an ethics investigation as a distraction being spurred by Brock, who he called an opponent of the proposal to restructure the Ithaca Police Department (IPD). He said that it would be a disservice if the allegations served to stop or alter the progress on police reform locally.
Brock has asked for an investigation into Myrick and the RPS process on a number of different allegations. Aside from the allegation of Myrick potentially soliciting funds from third parties to pay working group members, Brock has asked for an investigation into the potential of donations in the form of services from the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) being solicited; as well as a contract supposedly based on a verbal promise by Myrick to Rosario and Yearwood to pay them each $10,000 for their work as co-leads in the working group from City funds.
Brock has asked for a second investigation to be conducted by the City of Ithaca into the “internal controls” that allowed for third party payments to pass directly to working group members, and for CPE’s services to not have been accepted without the approval of Common Council. Acting Mayor Laura Lewis previously stated that she would “ensure that there is a thorough investigation” into the third party payments, and their potential influence on the City’s Reimagining Public Safety process.
CPE has been a notable front-facing partner within Ithaca’s RPS plan, though was largely an uninterrogated presence. The non-profit research center is based at Yale University and is dedicated to addressing and improving social and racial disparities within policing. The working group relied heavily on donated work and expertise from the CPE, according to Brock.
CPE published a statement characterizing Brock’s requests for an investigation into Myrick’s conduct, and potential breach of ethics related to RPS as “unfounded” and “notably, not against the report itself or any of its recommendations.”
Strongly pushing back against the idea that the payments directed towards members of the working group from third party funds was unethical, CPE wrote that it was “well within then-Mayor Myrick’s authority” to do so.
In contrast to the third party payments directed toward community member in the working group — who were mostly mostly black and brown area residents — CPE raised the points that overtime payment were made to the members of the Ithaca Police Department that participated in the working group, and that elected city officials involved in the working group receive stipends to support the work they do in office.
“It’s worth noting that questioning the credentials of Black leaders and Black-led organizations (often by those without qualifications to evaluate those credentials) is also not new to students of history,” wrote CPE.
Ithaca Voice Managing Editor Matt Butler contributed to this report. Disclosure: The Park Foundation is a financial sponsor of The Ithaca Voice, though this has not influenced coverage.