The chair of the city’s ethics board said this week she provided a written opinion dismissing conflict of interest allegations leveled by Alderman Brad Will (D-Ward 3) against Mayor Shayne Gallo as “baseless.” But, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Kingston Times, city officials claim the report hasn’t crossed their desks yet.
“We absolutely produced a written decision,” said Jean Jacobs, who was appointed to the head of the ethics board by Gallo last year. “If they’re dragging their feet, I don’t like that.”
The issue involves questions raised by Will about Gallo’s relationship with attorney George Redder. In November 2013, Gallo appointed Redder to serve as counsel to the Kingston Local Development Corporation. The job entailed following up on foreclosures, collection actions and other work for the agency at the city’s “municipal rate” of $150 per hour. In an April letter to Council President James Noble, Will questioned the appointment, based on Gallo’s previous relationship with Redder.
Gallo, an attorney, and Redder once shared office space Uptown; Gallo was one of four attorneys listed as “of counsel” on Redder’s letterhead as late as November 2013. The same “of counsel” title was present on signage at Redder’s Wall Street office and on Redder’s e-mail signature. 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. Following Redder’s appointment as KLDC counsel, Gallo’s name was removed from the letterhead and painted over on the office signage.
Gallo responded to Will’s questions at a May meeting of the KLDC. On a recording, a clearly irritated Gallo is heard telling Will that the conflict of interest concerns are “offensive and baseless.” Gallo said his relationship with Redder was simply that of a tenant renting office space in Redder’s office. Gallo added that the situation had been reviewed and cleared by the ethics board and that he would receive documentation of the proceedings “shortly.” Since then, Will said, he has received no information on the ethics board’s findings.
The board was established in late 2012 as part of a new ethics law. The five-member board appointed by the mayor was tasked with making recommendations regarding potential conflicts of interest and other matters. However, more than a year after the bill passed, Will said that he could find no records of the ethics board’s membership, decisions or meeting minutes.
“This law was created and enacted,” said Will. “But it does not appear to have been acted on.”
Members: There were meetings
But two members of the board, Jacobs and Uptown business owner Karen Clark Adin, said the board had met twice and had been involved in reviewing Gallo’s relationship with Redder. According to Jacobs, the commission, which also includes Kingston Plaza owner Brad Jordan, former fire chief John Reinhardt and the Rev. Doris Hatcher, held an organizational meeting earlier this year. Since then, it has met once to examine the allegations in Will’s letter.
“We got the letter, we all read it and discussed it and it was just Shayne renting space from George Redder,” said Adin. “There was nothing current, or in recent history that would qualify as a conflict.”
Jacobs said she, Hatcher and Adin, forming a quorum, sat down with Assistant Corporation Counsel Dan Gartenstein to discuss the issue on April 29. Both Adin and Jacobs said that they did not speak to the mayor or Redder or seek out supporting documents. Instead, they relied on Will’s letter in determining that the conflict of interest allegation was baseless. Jacobs said that after consulting with the board members not present at the meeting she sent a copy of the board’s determination to City Clerk Carly Williams on May 7. But on June 27, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Kingston Times seeking the board’s decision and all related documents, Williams wrote in an e-mail “A formal decision from the ethics board has not been received. We anticipate receiving one shortly.”
A troubling aspect, says Dunn
Council Majority Leader Matt Dunn (D-Ward 1) said this week that the delay in producing the board’s report was just one troubling aspect of enforcement of the ethics law. Dunn said a provision of the law requiring elected officials, appointed commission members and senior city employees to file detailed financial disclosure statements had, apparently, never been enforced. Dunn also said he wondered how thorough the board’s investigation of Gallo and Redder’s business dealings had been if in fact the board had never questioned either man or sought supporting documents.
“Hopefully, they didn’t punt in doing their job, because it is a concern,” said Dunn. “We should be rooting out conflicts of interest — that’s the purpose of the law.”