It seems the city’s new ethics board fumbled its first case. We’d like to see them take another look at Mayor Gallo’s hiring George Redder as counsel for the Kingston Local Development Corporation.
The matter was brought to the board’s attention by Alderman Brad Will — not one of the mayor’s favorite lawmakers, for sure — who pointed out that until Gallo gave Redder the gig, Gallo was listed as “of counsel” on Redder’s letterhead and his name was on the sign of Redder’s office. As we reported last week, “Will argued that Redder’s employment by the KLDC could run afoul of an ethics law passed in 2013 which forbids the awarding of contracts to companies and individuals who have recently been in business relationships with senior city officials.”
You hang around lawyers enough, you learn a few things. One of them being that to lawyers, words mean things — very specific, exact and really important things. In fact, the entirety of the law turns on words and their meanings; lawyers, juries and judges decide the fates of litigants and defendants every day based on words in laws. People get sentenced to death, or get away with murder, based on words in laws.
So “of counsel” of course means something, and it means more than renting a desk in an office. (That in and of itself is a business relationship, come to think of it.) As we reported this week, “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.’” Not a partnership, to be sure, but more than just some guy renting a desk.
Look, we know the members of the ethics board aren’t professional ethicists (other than the New York Times guy, who is?), but it seems in this case they failed to even type in the words “of counsel” into a search engine to see what might pop up. The documents the city provided as a result of the FOIL request gave exactly zero insight or explanation as to how the board came to its decision; we know from a board member that they basically looked at Will’s letter and, as board chairwoman (and fervent defender of the mayor on social media) Jean Jacobs is quoted as saying, decided Will’s concerns were “baseless.” In essence, they took the mayor’s word for it.
Weak effort, ethics board — your job is to scrutinize and make sure the law is upheld, not just take powerful people’s word for it that they’re on the up and up.
But even if Redder’s hiring was proper, in giving a person whom he’s friends with a job he broke a promise he made repeatedly during his 2011 campaign — that he’d put an end to the cronyism and hooking-up-your-buddies-with-city-gigs thing which has been a lamentable hallmark of public affairs in this city.
Once upon a time, someone said to me, “The appearance of a conflict of interest is the same thing as a conflict of interest.” In this case, looks ain’t deceiving.