This is a letter to the editor written by Trumansburg resident Brian Liberatore. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit letters to the editor, please send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Few things fuel suspicion like flouting an ethics investigation. The City of Ithaca did itself no favors with its tone-deaf, confrontational response to the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board. The tenor of the response damaged the Reimagining Public Safety process far more than the questioning.
The City of Ithaca is a public entity. Every request for information should be greeted with a smile and open books—whether it comes from a reporter, a gadfly, or an official county board. Anything less is unethical and often illegal. City Attorney Ari Lavine’s multi-page rant in response to questions around unusual payments was disrespectful to the county and its taxpayers.
It was also unnecessary. The cover-up is worse than the crime. As far as I can see, the city used donated money to compensate people working earnestly toward police reform. These were not huge sums, they were not taxpayer dollars, and the money was intended for that purpose. Granted, the city administration botched the payments—the council should have had better visibility. And whether it was illegal, it was sneaky. But at the core, this was little more than sloppy bureaucracy. No one is going to jail because of this.
The banality of the accusations makes the city’s response more damaging — and frankly puzzling. It is not right to disparage the intentions of Acting Mayor Laura Lewis, the attorney, or the Chief of Staff. They clearly care about their community and have sacrificed much for its betterment. But it’s fair to ask city leaders to demonstrate contrition or self-reflection under scrutiny. Had they done so, the ethics investigation would be done, and the city could have long ago moved forward.
Instead, City Attorney Lavine writes, “The city encourages the board to [articulate the specific lawful scope and limitations] at the earliest possible time to avoid the necessary inference of political motive that would necessarily be drawn from a board insistent on conducting an investigation outside the bounds of the law.”
Stripping away the atrocious legalese, this statement implies, “If you question us, you’re wrong: anyone looking for more insight into abnormal payments must be politically motivated.” This is the same belligerent nonsense that defined the last presidency. This is what hardens deadlock in Washington and pollutes our national discourse.
Who cares if the Ethics Advisory Board is overstepping its scope? The city should work with them. Let taxpayers know their government cares about transparency. Who cares if the investigation is politically motivated? Respond with grace. Anything else reeks of misconduct.