ITHACA, N.Y.—At their meeting last Friday, the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board had little movement to speak of regarding the ethics investigation it’s conducting into the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County’s Reimagining Public Safety (RPS) process.

The board is waiting on several key parties to respond to their requests for information, including the City of Ithaca, former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, and the Center for Policing Equity (CPE).

These responses are expected by Aug 31 from Myrick and the City of Ithaca. CPE has not yet responded to the board’s requests, though has only been reached out to through traditional mail. The responses that the board has received, it plans to make public as soon as its next meeting on Sept. 12.

But the process is moving slower than the board had originally wanted it to.

At their June 8 meeting, the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board had originally laid out a timeline that would allot 20 days for interested parties to respond by July 7. The City of Ithaca’s Attorney’s office deemed this original timeline too burdensome considering the size of the request submitted, much to the disagreement of Tompkins County Legislator and Ethics Advisory Board Chair Rich John and to the rest of the board.

The City proposed an extension of Aug. 31 to respond to the board. This deadline was never officially approved, but is now the expected date for the city to fulfill their request. 

The Ethics Advisory Board was unable to get in touch with Myrick until after their last meeting on July 29. John said at a previous Ethics Advisory Board meeting that the city attorney’s office had been unwilling to give the board Myrick’s address or contact information, which delayed the delivery of the request for info to him. 

At the board’s July 29 meeting John read an email that he wrote to Ithaca’s Acting Mayor Laura Lewis after being told by the city attorney’s office that the earliest the Ethics Advisory Board could expect a response was Aug 31.

The message that John said the attorney’s office was sending was one of “non-cooperation.” Lewis responded to John’s statement as being “offensive and baseless.”

John and Lewis, in their respective statements, took to comparing the merits of the county Ethics Advisory Board’s investigation to the city’s.

The City of Ithaca has put down $16,000, and committed up to $50,000 for an outside counsel to conduct an investigation prompted by the complaints brought forward by Brock. On behalf of the city, the investigation will be conducted by Kristen Smith, a lawyer from the law firm Bond, Schoeneck, & King, as well as former corporation counsel for the City of Syracuse. Smith will produce a report that will become publicly available to conclude her investigation. 

There is no timeline available for when this report will be complete. 

On Friday, board members discussed their displeasure at the perception that inter-municipal conflict is stewing between the city and the county over these separate investigations. 

Member of the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board Brian Eden (06/08/2022). Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

Board member Brian Eden said, “If the city had an ethics advisory board we wouldn’t be involved in this. This is essentially a city issue and the county is required to handle it.” He added. “We don’t have a choice. I mean the law requires us to do this, and the County taxpayers are paying for it — not just the city taxpayers.”

Due to the City of Ithaca not having an Ethics Advisory Board, New York State law gives the county’s board the authority to investigate ethics complaints in the city, which it must do if the complaints are deemed to bear merit. The board is ultimately only able to issue an advisory opinion on its ethics investigations which, on their own, cannot compel action. 

The Ethics Advisory Board’s investigation in the RPS process was spurred by a complaint submitted by City of Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock.

Brock’s complaint amounts to an overarching allegation that the RPS process has been tainted by ethical violations and third-party influence. Brock’s complaint asks the board to issue an opinion on whether the report prepared by the City of Ithaca’s RPS Working Group can be deemed unbiased. The report recommends the restructuring of the City’s police department into a Department of Community Safety and changes in call-responses procedures to include unarmed officers.

A further explanation of the investigation Brock requested can be read here.

Correction (08/25/2022): The next meeting of the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board was originally reported to be Sept. 11, rather than Sept. 12.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn