The North Greenbush Town Ethics Board met LEGALLY this week to rule on an 18 month old complaint which was withheld from Board members by town officials. We don’t know if they have figured out that the “new” policy of returning mail sent to the board at the town address was conceived to protect friends in town hall from having to deal with the Ethics Board or complaints made against town officials.
The complaint they ruled on asked them to determine the appropriateness of Councilman Spain’s to vote to rescind a residency requirement which then allowed him to vote to appoint an out of town attorney to a paid town job in exchange for providing his brother free legal services.
You should know the EB met a couple of weeks earlier without required public notice through no fault of their own because no one told them they were governed by the Open Meetings Law. They had already discussed and decided the issue and had written a decision on a laptop. The decision basically cleared Spain of violating the Ethics Code because his brother is not, in their view, “an immediate member of Councilman Spain’s family”. Hmm, brothers have the same DNA, far more so immediate than say a wife who shares none of a spouse’s DNA, but that’s the new definition of “immediate family member” in North Greenbush.
The decision was explained after a questionable executive secession called to discuss a personnel matter of which this does not qualify. The Board Chairman, however, elaborated on the decision by saying had Spain had been aware of the conflict before he voted, they might have taken a different view of the matter.
The Ethics Board did not know that just a discussion had indeed taken place at the Town Board meeting prior to the vote that fully informed Spain of the conflict. They did not know that Councilman Desso had recused himself from a similar vote involving the other Deputy Town Attorney. That attorney was providing him free legal services in a civil case involving holding dual elective offices. The Ethics Board was also informed after they made the ruling that Spain’s brother, Jeff, who benefited from his brother’s vote to appoint the attorney to a paid job, also spoke at the meeting and said it was “between he and his attorney” what financial arrangement he had with him. He did not deny he was getting a free service from the attorney which would have negated the issue. Now had all of this been discussed in open session before they voted, they would have known Councilman Spain was fully informed of the conflict his vote presented before he voted.
This decision has set a new standard for Town Board conduct and the use of a public office to benefit a “non immediate family member” as now defined by this panel. Just think of its implications, it’s ok to vote to financially benefit a brother or sister by giving someone a town job in exchange for them giving free service to the “non immediate” family member so long as you're blind to the conflict it presents. Just don’t do it for your wife or kids because that would be inexcusable even if you were deaf dumb and blind to the conflict before you voted.
A written copy of this decision may be available shortly and if it is we’ll be happy to post it. In the mean time, does anyone on the town board have a brother or sister in need of say landscaping services?
One last thing, the EB did recommend to the town board that it post on the town website the address to send them correspondence so it is no longer sent to town hall where it apparently cannot be ethically handled by any town employee. At least the public will not get their mail returned in frustration any longer, we hope. They also recommended to the TownBoard that in the future, ethics board members be informed of thier coverage by the Open Meetings Law. Common sense, except here in North Greenbush where the less the town board tells folks the better the chances they will not find a reason to criticize their official acts.