A Kingston alderman has been called before the city’s ethics board, but nobody connected with the case will say exactly why.
On Tuesday, Sept. 23 the city’s ethics board convened in a conference room at City Hall. Alderman Brad Will (D-Ward 3) arrived, accompanied by an attorney who advised him not to speak with a reporter. Inside, well-known civil rights attorney Michael Sussman conferred with ethics board members. Sussman had apparently been engaged to advise the board for the proceedings. Common Council President James Noble, city Corporation Counsel Andrew Zweben, Stockade District property owner Dominick Vanacore and Andrew Champ-Doran, who was beaten by Will last week in a primary for the Democratic Party line in the Ward 3 election, were on hand as subpoenaed witnesses.
Ethics Board Chair Jean Jacobs advised a reporter that the meeting would be closed to the public as per the city’s ethics statute. Other board members declined to comment on the proceeding.
Back in April, the commission which oversees the Pike Plan canopy in Uptown Kingston said it made a formal ethics complaint against Alderman Brad Will (D-Ward 3), claiming that his votes regarding the controversial canopy constituted a conflict of interest.
The Pike Plan, a system of covered sidewalks along Wall and North Front streets, has been mired in controversy since a major renovation project in 2011. Since work wrapped up on the overhaul, property owners have complained about poor design and workmanship that, they say, has caused flooding and other damage to their buildings. In March, the council approved Mayor Shayne Gallo’s request to hire Latham-based consulting firm C.T. Male to carry out a “forensic examination” of deficiencies in the plan. The study could be a precursor to a lawsuit against contractors involved in the restoration effort; Gallo has been quoted by many media outlets saying he believes the city should indeed sue.
Back in 2009, Will was one of two architects subcontracted by the engineering firm RBA to produce preliminary design documents for renovation project. Since his election to the Common Council in 2013, Will has cast a number of votes related to the Pike Plan. In March, Will voted against allocating $42,000 for the C.T. Male study when the issue came before the council’s Finance Committee. When it came before the full council, Will abstained from the vote, declining to explain why.
John Perry, chairman of the Pike Plan Commission, said back in April that the board had drafted a formal complaint to the city’s ethics board regarding Will’s votes and approved a letter stating so at its April 1 meeting. Perry said Will’s prior involvement with the restoration project posed a clear conflict of interest when it came to voting on matters, like the C.T. Male study, that could be preliminary to a lawsuit.
“We wanted to put forth a letter just to put him on notice that he should abstain from future votes,” said Perry. “Just a slap on the hand, no big deal.”
Gallo has frequently clashed with Will, accusing the alderman of interfering with executive branch operations. Will is also a member of the “One Kingston” political slate which successfully ousted Gallo from the Democratic line — and, come Jan. 1, 2016, from office — in the Sept. 10 primary. In more recent comments, Gallo claimed that Will had violated the city’s ethics code by failing to disclose that he’d done work for a client who had business before a city commission. In April, Gallo said he believed Will had a clear conflict of interest regarding the Pike Plan. “It’s disappointing that Mr. Will can’t see the obvious here,” said Gallo in April.
The board is expected to meet next week to discuss the case and render an opinion.
Tuesday’s hearing is just the second complaint heard by the five member board- which is appointed and serves at the pleasure of the mayor-since the body was formed in 2012. The previous complaint was filed by Will against Gallo. Back in 2013, Will wrote to Common Council President James Noble questioning the appointment of attorney George Redder as counsel to the Kingston Local Development Corporation. Prior to his election as mayor, Gallo shared office space with Redder. Until November 2013, the month he appointed Redder to advise the KLDC, Gallo was listed as “of counsel” on Redder’s letterhead and office signage. In his letter, Will suggested that the relationship may have violated a section of the ethics code which prohibits the awarding of contracts to companies or individuals who have recently been in business relationships with senior city officials.
In that case, the board relied on counsel from Assistant Corporation Counsel Dan Gartenstein rather than hiring an outside attorney. The board called no witnesses and reviewed no documents — other than Will’s letter — before declaring the allegation that Gallo had violated the ethics code “baseless.”
If Will is found guilty of unethical acts, penalties in the city code range from a warning or reprimand to a fine up to $10,000 to a referral for criminal prosecution as a Class A misdemeanor.