Appendix to Internal Rules and Regulations Standards for Interpreting Section 570-6
Board of Ethics Interpretative Standards under Section 570-6 of the Code of Ethics of the Town of Greenburgh for Use of Town Electronic Systems
The following is the section of the Code of Ethics of the Town of Greenburgh Town which is the subject of these interpretative standards:
“§ 570-6. Use of Town-owned equipment or property.
No Public Officer, Employee or Agency Member shall request, obtain, permit the use of or use Town-owned vehicles, equipment, buildings, material or property for personal convenience, Interest, use or benefit or the personal convenience, use or benefit of others, except when such services are available to the public generally or are specifically provided by the Town Board for the use of such Public Officer, Employee or Agency Member in the conduct of official business.”
If the Board of Ethics receives a properly certified complaint or a request for an advisory opinion involving § 570-6, it will be guided by the following standards:
1. Official business includes activities, duties and matters which directly or indirectly pertain to the legislative process or to the effective and efficient functioning, administration and operation of the Town and its services and programs and the performance of responsibilities in connection therewith. These include, but not are limited to, the conveying of information to the public and the requesting of public comment on such matters.
2. Official business does not include the use of Town-owned property for political purposes including, but not necessarily limited to, the solicitation of political support or monies or other contributions in favor of any candidate or political party.
3. Official business does not include the use of Town-owned property to make personal or political attacks on individuals or entities. Such attacks include but are not necessarily limited to the use of vulgar, obscene or defamatory language, and clearly inaccurate, false or misleading statements concerning the character, motivation, actions or omissions of one or more individuals or entities.
One of the purposes of the Board of Ethics as specified in the Code of Ethics is to “facilitate compliance” with the Code. The Town website and the Town email system are relatively new electronic technology. The Town does not have guidelines for the use of these systems in terms of distinguishing between personal convenience and official uses of the Town's email system and website. Nor are there any Town guidelines for content standards of official business. Content standards for the public use of Greenburgh Access TV (GATV) do exist, however.
In the opinion of the Board of Ethics, the Town email and Town website fall within the definition of “equipment, material or property” contained within Section 570-6. The equipment, material, property the Town website and Town email include computer hardware and software, electronic data storage devices, telecommunications equipment, air-conditioning equipment, wiring, and building space and security devices. In order to facilitate a fair and consistent application of Section 6 to the use of this equipment and these systems, the Board of Ethics has adopted the interpretative standards contained herein. With regard to the exclusion of political purposes from allowable uses in Interpretive Standard 2, we note that the Town, as a municipal entity funded by public monies from all citizens, is neutral as to whom the citizenry elects. Section 570-6 was part of legislation passed by the Town Board. In attempting to determine legislative intent in this regard we note that it is Town Board policy to treat individuals at public meetings with respect, even those with whom one may have differing points of view on matters of policy. We also reviewed the Town’s program content policy for public use of Greenburgh Access TV (GATV). This policy is posted on the Town website. Interpretive Standard 3, herein, is consistent with that policy. In addition, we examined official websites from other governmental bodies at the county, state and federal level as well as those of a number of other towns in New York State. This was done in order to help inform us of the usual and customary practice of these websites with respect to what is “official business.” In summary, we found these official websites to be vehicles used to communicate governmental information to the public. They are generally very professional in content and tone. We did not find that they were used for personal attacks. In addition to the above, the use of Town systems for personal attacks would be inherently disrespectful, would be unfair and would potentially have a chilling effect on democratic participation in municipal government.
Section 570-6 and these interpretative standards do not affect in any way the right of any Town official to express her/his opinions through property not owned by the Town, such as in personal emails, personal blogs, campaign emails, printed campaign materials, public debates, communications with the press, and other means not involving the use of property owned by the Town.
Items of official business addressed on the website or in town emails may include comments or discussion of proposed legislation or existing or potential litigation between the Town and other parties including private citizens and entities and other governmental authorities. Some of these items may be controversial and some Town officials, candidates for Town office, political parties or individual citizens or citizen groups may have different opinions than those expressed on the website or in the email. Nothing in these Interpretative Standards precludes a Town official when using the Town website or email from discussing issues regarding the administration of Town government or Town affairs including legal and law enforcement matters, from criticizing the substance of an opinion or view expressed by another, or from expressing a contrary opinion or view, as opposed to attacking named individuals or entities in a manner inconsistent with these Interpretive Standards. When using Town systems to discuss issues it should be done in a professional manner consistent with the official business of a municipality.
Revised Dec. 8, 2014