September 22, 2008

A Conflict of Interest for Virtuoso?

The Niagara County Legislature may soon vote on a local law proposed by Dennis Virtuoso that establishes a real property tax exemption for converting non-residential property to mixed-use. This is not a bad idea, as conversions of former commercial building into mixed use residential can be a good way to try to attract people back into urban settings.

What this local law doesn't say is that Virtuoso is a major property owner in Niagara Falls, owning somewhere around a dozen different properties. So, the obvious question is: Does Dennis Virtuoso, landlord, stand to benefit significantly from a local law put forward by Dennis Virtuoso, legislator?

If the answer to this question is yes, then the County Board of Ethics should immediately open an inquiry. Clearly, using one's elected position to benefit one's financial standing isn't right. That's called a conflict of interest.

Now, if Dennis doesn't have a conflict, he needs to clearly explain why. Remember, a perceived conflict of interest is equally bad. Maybe his property doesn't qualify, though I don't see how that's possible.

What Virtuoso should probably have done from the get-go on this is state that while he thinks the law is a good idea, he is in a conflict position (or could have the perception of being in conflict since he owns property) and hence will not take part in any debate of the bill in committee or in front of the full Legislature and will abstain from the vote.

That would have been the ethical way to handle this. Dennis chose to handle it the other way and hoped no one would notice. Now, he could have a big problem on his hands.

4 comments:

Frank DeGeorge said...

When will these politicans ever learn to avoid avoid even the appearance? I just don't get it.

Paladin said...

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

But, what do you expect from the Party of Rivera and Rangel?

vintage said...

C'mon. Hobbes' blind hatred for Mr. Virtuoso has gotten the better of him. The objection is equivalent to saying a municipal official has a conflict of interest because he both pays taxes and helps set the tax rate through passage of a budget. Property owners have rights, too, and if the new law makes it easier for property owners, including Mr. Virtuoso, to invest their buildings, then that's a good thing. Look at the big picture.

Mr. Pink said...

Vintage,

You make an excellent point, one which Hobbes, I think, also made. Dennis should have said this is a good piece of legislation that will benefit the city but he must abstain from any deliberations on it because he may personally benefit. That's all it would have taken and this would be a non-issue.

Unfortunately, when you don't disclose conflicts, you create issues like this.