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Report: Ithaca officials acted unethically during police reform effort

The Tompkins County Legislature, through the county's Ethics Advisory Board, opened an investigation into Ithaca's Reimagining Public Safety effort last April.
Megan Zerez
The Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board has released its final opinion on complaints brought by Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock last spring.

The Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board concluded this week that county and Ithaca officials acted unethically in obtaining funds for local police reform efforts.

The board, comprised of four citizens and one county legislator, released its final opinion this week after nearly a year of deliberation.

The report said Ithaca and Tompkins County officials violated local ethics codes four times, but said the investigation did not uncover evidence to prove the errors were deliberate.

The board also declined to say whether or not the ethics violations had had a meaningful impact on the integrity of Ithaca's police reform effort.

Former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick was a central subject of the investigation.

During his time as mayor, Myrick maintained secondary employment with People For the American Way, which he now heads. The group lobbies for progressive causes — which later included Ithaca's police reform effort.

Elected officials are allowed to continue or take on other employment while in office. But the ethics board said Myrick's work constitutes a violation of the city’s conflict of interest policy because his work could be considered paid lobbying on city policy.

Myrick disputed that claim. He has been open about his involvement with People for the American Way, though the exact nature of that involvement hasn't always been clear.

The other two violations are connected to a donation in support of Reimagining Public Safety by the Center for Policing Equity, a national non-profit focused on local police reform efforts.

The board said the city and county should not have accepted the donation without first going through the proper procurement process, which can include a competitive bidding process and review by Common Council.

The county's conclusions are in contrast with a parallel investigation chartered by the City of Ithaca.

The city’s investigation, conducted by an independent legal investigator, concluded with the release of a final report last winter.

The city's report included many of the same findings but ultimately concluded there was not enough evidence to clearly prove any ethics violations.

Throughout the process, city and county officials have traded barbs over the dueling investigations — the county's report opens with a lengthy introduction detailing what it says were efforts by city officials to stymy its investigation.

In a statement, Ithaca mayor Laura Lewis said the county's investigation may not have been impartial and that it "exceeded the lawful advisory scope permitted it by New York law."

The two investigations came out of a wide ranging complaint last May by Ithaca alderperson Cynthia Brock. Brock has at times been critical of the former mayor and the city's police reform effort.

It’s not clear how much the county’s investigation — which utilized services from county employees and legal counsel — cost taxpayers. The city’s investigation came with a $70,000 price tag.