Sun Investigates

More than half of city officials, employees fill out ethics forms wrong

More than half of the 1,900 city officials and employees required to complete ethics and financial disclosure forms fill out the forms incorrectly or not at all.

Those are the findings of a report written by a mayoral fellow this year who reviewed the forms — the first time in at least eight years the forms have gotten a comprehensive examination.


"The form was often submitted incomplete, with errors or missing schedules," wrote Olesya K. Vernyi, a city intern whom the ethics board asked to audit the forms. At least half of the forms were filled out for the wrong year, Vernyi found. Employees also submitted non-responsive documents, did not answer the questions or confused the meaning of basic English words, Vernyi found.

For instance, when asked if staffers had any financial interest in properties or entities that do business with the city, many respondents filled out the form incorrectly, the report said.


"The word interest confused filers," according to the report. "Many expressed they did not receive any interest from their home."

In her report, Vernyi, a law school student at Syracuse University, recommended placing all ethics forms online while simplifying and clarifying parts of the forms.

"The largest departments (DPW, Housing, Transportation) are most confused about who in their agencies should be required to file," she wrote.

Vernyi also recommended that the ethics board require its director, city employee Avery Aisenstark, and his staff to review annually the ethics forms of senior-level administration, such as the city's agency and department heads, along with elected officials, such as the mayor and members of the City Council . Vernyi also recommended the Department of Legislative Reference review a random sampling of forms annually.

In February, The Sun reported the disclosure forms are rarely reviewed and there has not been a comprehensive review of the forms in at least eight years.

—Luke Broadwater`