May 10, 2006
New Fire District Code of Ethics?
Assemblyman Marc Alessi, a strong advocate for reform, has passed his first piece of legislation on the floor of the Assembly, calling for a code of ethics for state fire districts.
Without a code of ethics, fire districts have less oversight, said Alessi.
"This measure will help volunteer fire companies and their members by doing two things: strengthening the integrity of those brave men and women who serve their communities, and providing fiscal accountability to taxpayers," he said.
The reform measure, he added, would "alleviate concerns in regard to fire department mismanagement that have arisen over the last year."
Alessi said he has received support across the board on this measure, with memos in favor of the bill issued by the Fire District Association, the Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Fire Association of the State of New York.
Although Alessi said he was not motivated to advocate the bill by any local incidence of mismanagement, the measure will be a win-win for volunteers. "The bill helps strengthen the integrity of all the great men and women who volunteer their time to help our communities," he said. "It protects them from the few bad apples who may abuse power."
Specifically, the legislation would provide greater oversight of fire district finances by requiring periodic outside audits for districts with more than $200,000 in revenue, and establishing criteria for travel and banquet expenses. A public vote would be required before a district could create a capital reserve fund, and the state comptroller would be able to audit the books of not-for-profit fire companies.
Other facets of the legislation include the requirement of voter approval for the creation of fire district reserve funds, clarification of when special elections can be conducted, and the establishment of a statewide volunteer fire district budget hearing day.
The legislation would require fire districts and companies to not only develop codes of ethics but establish education requirements for fire district commissioners.
Finally, the new bill would require certain information to be posted on fire district and municipal websites.
Alessi, who served as the Downstate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Office of the New York State Comptroller before being elected to his current position as First District assemblyman, earned a reputation as a watchdog, ensuring officials and government agencies were responsive to the public and did not abuse taxpayer dollars. His efforts helped to expose several school finance scandals on Long Island.
Since his election, he has continued to push for reform and oversight, with his efforts to "clean up public authorities" such as LIPA, as well as advocating oversight in regard to the awarding of state contracts and working to improve the state budget process.
"Without ethics, we have the potential for corruption," he said.
Alessi believes the bill, with support from Senate sponsor Michael Balboni, has a good chance of passing within the next few months.