ITHACA, N.Y.—After months of delay with its information-gathering process, the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board has agreed on a date to release the responses it’s received as it investigates a broad ethics complaint issued by City of Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock into the Reimagining Public Safety (RPS) process and former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.

The release will come whether the board has all of the responses or not. 

The board is only waiting on the response from the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), a non-profit research center focused on addressing inequities within policing. CPE played a critical role in supporting the development of the RPS plan. The board has, seemingly, been delayed in having its questions answered by CPE due, in part, to the pitfalls of snail mail and not having contact information readily available when requests began in June. 

The physically mailed questions and the lack of addresses delayed the responses of several other interested parties in the Ethics Advisory Board’s investigation, including former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, as well as Eric Rosario and Karen Yearwood, the co-leads of the RPS Working Group tasked with crafting recommendations around developing and implementing Department of Community Safety and other major reforms of the RPS plan passed by the City and Tompkins County in March 2021. 

The Ethics Advisory Board sought to have its information requests forwarded to Myrick, Rosario and Yearwood, or to have contact information shared with the board by the City of Ithaca, though the city attorney’s office declined to do so. 

But with these responses in hand, and only waiting on CPEs, the board seems to feel that it has reached the end of its patience, and that it should publicly release the responses before a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) does it instead, so as to avoid the optics of hiding information from the public.

Ethics Advisory Board member Kathleen Walpole said “This has been dragging on for the spring. We don’t need to come across as trying to do something secretive ourselves.”

Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board member Kathleen Walpole. Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

The effort to promote transparency comes at a potential cost. With questions and responses laid out under the public eye, the Ethics Advisory Board will be opening itself up to a higher degree of public scrutiny as it actively works toward an advisory opinion it is tasked with producing. The opinion the board will issue does not hold any legal weight. 

Brock’s complaint amounts to a broad allegation that the RPS process was skewed by ethical violations and a third-party influence. The opinion, that Brock asked the board to issue, was whether the board can consider the RPS Working Group’s report unbiased, considering, among other points, that undisclosed payments were made to members of the working group, as well as two $10,000 payments to the co-leads. 

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

The City of Ithaca has funded and initiated its own separate investigation which, will produce a report at the end of it. This investigation, in the respect that it will be conducted behind closed doors until its conclusion, is normative in that respect.

Due to the public openness of the investigation, Ethics Advisory Board member Brian Eden said “I think our work is going to be the subject of further scrutiny by others, which may mean further litigation or audits, and I want to have the cleanest process possible. Releasing documents, piecemeal, could threaten that very clear-cut process.”

The five-member board ultimately voted unanimously to release the information it has gathered by the end of the week. 

Regarding the information that the board will release, Ethics Advisory Board member Gretchen Rymarchyk said, “I think people should pick it apart. And they might raise questions that we are going to want to entertain.”

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn