Perceived Conflict Of Interest Is A Slippery Slope

To the Readers’ Forum:

I am writing to address the issue of County Legislator Lori Cornell recusing herself from the vote on the sale of the County Home due to a “conflict of interest.” For those that don’t know, her grandmother was in the facility.

Let me start off by saying that I am in favor of selling the County Home and that is just one of several issues that Legislator Cornell and I do not agree on. But I do not feel she should recuse herself from the vote.

First and foremost, there would be no change in the result on the sale of the home by her abstaining. More ”yes” votes are needed to complete the sale. But my issue is more with the slippery slope of perceived conflicts of interest and abstentions. We are elected to represent the best interest of the taxpayers. From time to time, our personal feelings on a topics will conflict with what we know is the will of the people we represent. We have a duty to either vote according to the will of our constituents or explain why we are voting against it. It’s the responsibility of the voters to decide whether or not the overall job we are doing is worthy of us continuing to serve.

The County Legislature rarely votes to allow a legislator to abstain from a vote. Casting a ”yes” or ”no” vote at all times is absolutely the correct thing to do. Giving legislators an out allows them to hide from difficult issues. That is not what we are elected to do.

At a recent town hall meeting, Congressman Tom Reed explained how Congress votes. Once a vote begins, they have anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to enter their vote. A tally board shows them how the votes are going. Mr. Reed does his research and, to his credit, usually casts his votes right away. Yet there are many representatives that wait to see how the votes are going so they can then decide to take the easy way out if a piece of legislation already has enough votes to pass or fail. That is politics at its worst. It’s also irresponsible and dishonest.

Abstaining from a vote, in my opinion, should only occur when the outcome of the vote has a direct connection to the legislator’s personal financial interests. That is clearly a matter of ethics. If we stretch the definition of a conflict to include personal feelings on the topic and other arms-length situations, we will be allowing our elected officials to hide behind those excuses.

You may disagree with Mrs. Cornell’s vote on the County Home. But at the end of the day, legislators must take responsibility for their record and the voters will decide if their representative is serving the best interests of the people.

George Borrello