Editorial: Mount Vernon leaders should obey disclosure law
It's Sunshine Week and that means it's a good time for government leaders all across New York State to show off how they are making themselves open and transparent to the public.
But the sun's not shining on Mount Vernon.
Routine financial disclosure forms for Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis and other city leaders haven't been made available to the public, and for 2007, have gone missing altogether. It's unclear if city officials ever filled out the necessary paperwork or whether they're simply not making it available. The city's response -- basically a shrug of the shoulders -- doesn't engender much confidence.
Responding to a Freedom of Information Law request from Newsday.com, Mount Vernon Assistant Corporation Counsel Jennifer Ratan wrote last week that no financial disclosures could be found "for anyone" for 2007 and that previous filings dating back to Davis' first tenure as mayor -- which ran for 12 years starting in 1995 -- were no longer available because there's no requirement for the records to be maintained that far back. (After four years out of office, Davis was again elected mayor in 2011.)
While rules that say the city must keep documents for seven years sound like a partial explanation, they don't adequately justify the lack of documents from 2007, which under law should still be available. Nor do these reasons explain why Davis was allowed to alter his 2012 forms, as he has admitted doing, after he learned that federal authorities were curious about his outside real estate ventures.
The forms are supposed to show an elected official's financial interests, including investments, bank accounts and real estate -- as well as any outside income -- and be reviewed annually by the city's Board of Ethics. That's particularly important in Mount Vernon because federal investigators are looking into how the mayor was able to afford nine properties in four states on his public salary. The mayor, meanwhile, has said he's done nothing wrong and that they are unfairly targeting him.
The feds seem to think Mount Vernon's record-keeping is a "mess by design," a law enforcement source told Newsday.com. While that's hard to know for sure, the sloppiness, intended or not, doesn't pass a simple sunshine test.
There are many questions surrounding the mayor and his extracurricular dealings. The City Council and Board of Ethics ought to be looking for answers.