New report raises transparency concerns in local governments

Jun 6, 2018

While much has been made recently about apparent conflicts of interest at the highest levels of the federal government, a new report is placing the spotlight on the potential for such conflicts on the local level. In a review of the financial disclosure forms required for elected officials in 10 area government entities, the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government found some troubling inconsistencies.

Attorney Paul Wolf is president of the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government.
Credit WBFO file

Financial disclosure forms are required for officials of governments representing 50,000 or more people, according to Coalition president Paul Wolf. The specific information sought on the forms varies from entity to entity. 

"In the town of Cheektowaga, you (a government official) have to report a gift of $25 or more. In Niagara Falls and Erie County you don't have to report a gift unless it's $1,000 or more," Wolf said. 

"So, the range is very wide and we think, certainly, $1,000 is a large limit to have."

Other forms might ask for the names of relatives who may be employed by that government. If a government official is in business, the form might ask for the name of any client who has a contract with that government.

"These disclosure forms are not sworn to or certified. We think that's important," Wolf said. 

"Most of these forms, you just sign it. You're not swearing to the truthfulness or accuracy of the information and we think that's important as well."

In gathering their information for the report, Wolf says his group only sought the disclosure forms not the information provided by any specific official.

"Niagara County actually has a local law that they passed in 1996 that as far as the Niagara County legislators go no one can view their financial disclosure forms other than the sheriff, the DA or their ethics board," Wolf said.

"I have not seen that law anywhere else in New York State. So they have financial disclosure in Niagara County, but no one can see it."

Of the 10 entities reviewed, the Coalition gave out five passing grades. Erie County and the town of Cheektowaga had the highest scores. The town of Amherst had the lowest score.