The town’s ethics committee has cleared Parks and Recreation Department chief Greg Chorvas of any wrongdoing in connection with a complaint that he pressured subordinates to attend a 2015 Republican caucus and urged them to vote for town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel and other Democrats seeking cross-endorsement.
The board ruled that the evidence did not support the allegation and even if it did, the alleged conduct did not constitute a violation of the town’s ethics code.
The complaint by former Parks and Rec employee Brett Baschnagel was filed January 2016. The board met to take testimony on May 23 and discuss the allegations on June 19. The decision is dated July 11.
In his complaint, Baschnagel claimed that on the day of the 2015 caucus of the Saugerties Republican Committee, Chorvas, armed with a copy of the town’s voter rolls, called a meeting of all employees who were registered Republicans. Baschnagel, who resigned from the department last year and now resides in Florida, alleged Chorvas told the group that they should attend the caucus at the Frank Greco Senior Center that evening. Baschnagel alleged Chorvas also told the group that they should vote for Helsmoortel. Chorvas, according to Baschnagel, warned his employees that Saugerties Conservative Party vice-chair Gaetana Ciarlante, who was also seeking the Republican endorsement for town supervisor, and Saugerties GOP committee chair Joe Roberti would cut the department’s budget and force employee layoffs if elected. That night, Baschnagel claimed, he and other who attended were pressured by Chorvas to stay until they could cast their votes. Helsmoortel won the GOP nomination and was elected to another term in office in November 2015.
The board, according to its report, weighed whether Chorvas’ alleged conduct violated the section of the town’s ethics ordinance barring use of an official position to confer financial benefits, privileges or exemptions. The board also considered whether the alleged conduct violated another section of the law which bans town employees from asking subordinates to participate in or contribute to political campaigns.
The five-member board cleared Chorvas on both counts. In their decision, the board wrote that Chorvas and Parks and Rec employees called to testify all denied Baschnagel’s allegations, making it impossible to establish by a “fair preponderance of the credible evidence” the allegations’ veracity. “There was highly conflicting testimony about exactly what occurred at the staff meeting,” the board wrote.
Despite that, the board wrote that there was sufficient evidence that the caucus was discussed at the Aug. 6, 2015 meeting and that Chorvas referred to the voting rolls before informing Baschnagel that he was eligible to vote. But the board also ruled that even if Chorvas had encouraged his employees to attend the caucus and vote for certain candidates, it would not have constituted a violation of the ethics law under a strict interpretation of the ordinance’s wording.
“Close questions as to the coverage of this local law containing disciplinary provisions must be resolved in favor of the accused,” the board wrote. “The board finds that attendance at a caucus does not constitute participation in a political campaign or contributing to a political committee.”
While the board found that Chorvas did not violate the ethics law, members also cautioned the department head that discussing party enrollment could create an appearance of impropriety.
“The board recommends that [Chorvas] not discuss party affiliation or participation at a political caucus with his subordinates, and not maintain the voter registration rolls at his office or elsewhere in the department,” the decision reads.
Chorvas declined to comment on the committee’s findings. Baschnagel said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the decision. Baschnagel said his fellow co-workers likely covered for their boss for fear of retaliation, while the board itself had little incentive to punish him.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Baschnagel. “The ethics committee is appointed by the town board and the town board members are all good friends with Chorvas.”