Just two months after he dissolved the city’s ethics board, Mayor Steve Noble said he will reconvene the committee — with all new members — to hear a complaint involving city officials’ handling of ethics allegations against a former alderman.
On Wednesday, July 13 Noble announced that he had appointed a five-member temporary ethics board to hear a complaint filed by Joe DiFalco, a onetime chair of the city’s Independence Party committee, ally of former mayor Shayne Gallo and husband of Gallo’s former confidential secretary, Ellen DiFalco. The appointees are Kingston school board trustee the Rev. Arthur Coston, restaurateur Jose Villa, HealthAlliance Director of Addiction Services Al Nace, Artcraft Camera owner Glenn Fitzgerald and local historian Patricia Murphy.
Noble dissolved the city’s ethics board last month, before DiFalco filed his complaint. All of its members had been appointed by Gallo under a 2013 ethics law which gives the mayor sole authority to appoint and dismiss members. Noble said at the time that he dissolved the board in order to clear the way for new legislation which would appoint members to fixed terms and give the Common Council input in their selection.
DiFalco’s complaint, filed last week, involves the city’s handling of a prior complaint against former Ward 3 alderman Brad Will. Will resigned in April, days before the ethics board met to hear a conflict of interest complaint also lodged against him by DiFalco. The ethics board concluded that Will — a licensed architect — had in fact violated the law when he appeared before the city’s Heritage Area Commission on behalf of a client. The law forbids sitting city officials from petitioning city boards and commissions for paid clients.
It was the second time the ethics board had found Will guilty of ethics law violations. In 2015, he was fined and censured after the board ruled that he should have recused himself from voting on issues related to a project he had worked on. In its April decision, the board ruled that Will should either be fined $6,000, the equivalent of one year’s salary as an alderman, or forced to step down. Since Will had already resigned from the council, the penalty was never enforced. The board also granted Will an exemption from the ethics law’s “revolving door” clause, which bars former city officials from representing clients before city boards and commissions for 18 months after leaving office.
DiFalco’s new complaint centers on the conduct of the April hearing and the granting of Will’s exemption from the revolving door provision. DiFalco alleges that the April 16 hearing was convened without the necessary 72-hour notice to the media and public. He also objected to Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant’s serving as the board’s legal adviser. DiFalco said when he brought up the issue, Bryant said that since Will was no longer an alderman, there was no reason why Bryant should not advise the board. Bryant similarly dismissed DiFalco’s request that a stenographer record the closed-door hearing.
Later, after he left the room while the ethics board continued its discussion, DiFalco said he asked Bryant if Will had requested a waiver from the revolving door clause. Bryant, according to DiFalco’s account, replied that he was unsure.
DiFalco contends that the waiver granted by the ethics board was improper, since there was no written application. In addition to his complaints about how the meeting was handled, DiFalco also questioned the legality of Noble’s decision to dissolve the board. DiFalco said he believes the board was dissolved to give lawmakers time to draw up a less-restrictive ethics law.
“They knew these charges were coming,” said DiFalco. “And they tried to head it off by making these things legal.”
In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, July 13, Noble wrote that he supported changes in the ethics law to include “more appropriate requirements and enforceable restrictions.” Noble also said that while he would convene a temporary ethics board to hear DiFalco’s complaint, “I can say confidently and without hesitation that his assertions are unfounded and untrue.”
Will likened DiFalco’s ethics complaint to “zombie attacks” from the prior administration, with whom he was frequently at odds, and a pointless exercise given that he was no longer an alderman. Will said the waiver was granted by the ethics board and his request without any input from Noble. Will also said that he believed he had been the victim of a political vendetta and an overbroad law.
“I’m a poster child for a flawed ethics law that was abused,” said Will. “It’s a half-baked law that doesn’t take into consideration that we’re a small community and people have to make a living.”