Document offers zero insight on ethics board’s decision

Mayor Shayne Gallo. (Photo: Dan Barton)

Mayor Shayne Gallo. (Photo: Dan Barton)

The city has responded to a Kingston Times Freedom of Information Act request by releasing a written opinion of a ruling by the city’s ethics board clearing Mayor Shayne Gallo of any conflict of interest in the hiring of attorney George Redder to work with the Kingston Local Development Corporation.

On July 7, City Clerk Carly Williams responded to the June 20 FOIL request seeking the board’s decision and all supporting documents relating to the deliberations of the ethics board regarding the appointment of Redder as counsel to the KLDC. One week earlier, Williams said that the decision was not available because an “official” version had not been produced. Board Chairwoman Jean Jacobs, however, said a written opinion on the matter had been filed with the city back in May.

The board was appointed by Gallo last year in accordance with a new ethics law. Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will questioned Redder’s appointment to the board in a January letter to Common Council President James Noble. Will noted that Gallo, an attorney, had been listed under the title “Of Counsel” on Redder’s letterhead and office signage up until at least November 2013 — the same month he was appointed to KLDC counsel. Sometime later, Gallo’s name was removed from the letterhead and covered over on the signage. The ethics law limits the awarding of city contracts to people who currently or recently have had outside business dealings with city officials.  Will’s letter questioned “whether proper protocol has been followed, that a conflict of interest has not been breached, that proper disclosure had been made by the Mayor’s office and any potential appearance of impropriety is addressed.”

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At a May meeting of the KLDC, Gallo dismissed the appearance of impropriety by saying that he had simply rented space in Redder’s law office. While the definition of “of counsel” varies from state to state, a 1996 opinion by the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics describes it as “the existence of a close, regular and personal relationship between the attorney and the firm.”

According to the one-page decision, the board met on April 29 to discuss Will’s letter. In a single paragraph, the board dismissed Will’s concerns denying any appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest. The decision does not contain any supporting documents or address how the board reached its conclusion.

Jacobs and board member Karen Clark Adin said last week that the decision was based solely on the contents of Will’s letter, which Jacobs called “baseless.”

The only other document included in the FOIL response is an e-mail dated July 1 from Jacobs to Janet Higgins — an assistant in the city’s corporation counsel’s office — authorizing the release of the decision.

There are 6 comments

  1. miniscus dwentnok

    The ethics law was very poorly constructed by the Common Council… surely the common council has the power to rewrite the law…
    Apparently, those on the ehtics board don’t themselves have to demonstrate ethical conduct…
    From our Declaration comes this: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes…”
    This ethics board shows no such respect. By name, these people are: Jacobs and board member Karen Clark Adin and the common council is bound to call for their dismissal. I don’t know that they can do it (poorly written law) but they must at least go on record. And this paper could do the same. Oh, and call on the Common Council for that poorly written law.

  2. Rainier Parade

    More tap-dancing from Gallo, who appears to be doing everything he can to ensure that the new ethics board has no teeth. And the board says it’s cleared Gallo of any wrongdoing. But the little people — including the press, apparently — don’t get to see how they made their decision. Probably because there is nothing there to see. The ethics board members are all handpicked Gallo flunkies, and they did the mayor’s bidding and swept the whole thing under the rug with nothing more than a cursory glance. This contempt for the democratic process is one of the things that makes Gallo so dangerous. We really need to get rid of him next year. Enough is enough.

    1. h. febrile tanager

      The ethics rule, which appears to be quite flawed, is not the mayor’s rule: it is the rule created and passed by the Common Council.
      Nowhere, at least yet, has a remedy to the flawed law been corrected, and this is at the feet of the council.
      Recently, the Common Council let lapse a financial penalty that was levied against derelict rentals. That deprived the city and the mayor of funds to carry out actions against the property owners and the properties.
      There are some talented people on the Council, but it has been too involved with political matters, jockeying for candidates for the next mayor election. Neither the Council nor the mayor nor the newspapers have brought glory to themselves vis a vis sticking to issues and looking out for the citizens in these matters.
      Mr R Parade is really quite unfamiliar with the Kingston government and its programs at any level, but remains certain that he doesn’t like Gallo and takes the “everything would be perfect if it weren’t for Mayor Gallo”, taking no measure at all of the financial and program and grant management of the city under his term, which has been immensely successful.

  3. Jesse J. Smith

    Just one point of clarification here- the Council and the Mayor both submitted their own ethics bills. The one that passed, after much contentious debate, was a synthesis of both. The composition and duties of the ethics board was in the Mayor’s version of the bill.

    1. anon

      If the council passed a bill, then isn’t that the councils bill? You guys are good at this stuff: are the original forms of both bills available? Is there a record as to how the vote went?
      From what I see, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, the mayor had a business relationship with the man he appointed. But that’s just me. There’s the entire common council, there are the citizens… isn’t that where the buck stops?

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