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Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport

After the Niagara County attorney again disputed his opinion that the county's ethics board is required to consider complaints originating at the city level, North Tonawanda Attorney Luke Brown said it's now up to the common council to determine how to proceed.

In a March 29 letter to Brown, County Attorney Claude Joerg referenced section 808 of the New York State General Municipal Law and reiterates his interpretation that the law does not require the county to handle complaints from local municipalities. 

"The Niagara County Board of Ethics does not review citizen's complaints concerning the affairs of North Tonawanda," he wrote. "Such citizen's complaints are outside the purview of the Niagara County Board of Ethics." 

Further, Joerg references the subject of the complaint that started the back and forth about the jurisdiction of the county ethics boards, which regards procurement procedures. He says that as the city's counsel, Brown should have issued "any necessary opinions and/or directives" to the council and the mayor if he feels that the procurement process was irregular. 

The complaint regarded the city's decision to hire an accounting firm, which has donated to the campaigns of current and former city officials, to perform its external audit. The decision was made against a strong recommendation from the North Tonawanda accountant, who questioned the firm's abilities, noting number mistakes on past audits. 

However, Brown is standing by his own interpretation of the law, saying he believes the law referenced by Joerg actually says that the county should review the complaint. What happens next is up to the common council, he said. 

"It's still my position that the county ethics board is obligated under General Municipal Law 808(2) to render advisory opinions to the city of North Tonawanda relative to ethics complaints," Brown said. 

"However, if the county continues to refuse to fulfill its obligation under that law, the city council will have to decide if it wants to pursue legal intervention to make the county comply with its obligations or form its own ethics board." 

Council President Eric Zadzilka said he'd like to see confusion over the law cleared up before making any decisions. 

He also said he feels that there should be a mechanism in place to hold government officials and employees accountable for their actions, and in the event that the county determines it is absolutely unable to consider city-level complaints, he'd be open to forming an NT ethics board. 

"I think that people need to be held accountable, that's the bottom line," he said. "I would like some resolution to it. If we have to do an ethics committee, thats fine. If county is able to do it and it's done to satisfaction of taxpayers and the city, we’ll do it that way."