Saugerties considers ethics law amendment

After a possible ethics-code violation was investigated within Saugerties town government in February of last year, the town’s ethics committee has proposed an amendment to a subsection regarding political activities and solicitation within the code. A public hearing on the amendment will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, October 3 before a regularly scheduled town board meeting at the Frank Greco Senior Center. 

The section, which has almost doubled in word count, initially prohibited town officials from pushing political agendas during work hours in relation to elections, or doing so on town property. The proposed language specifies what this includes: election campaign literature and campaign materials or information or documentation regarding political affiliation. The new version assures that town employees are not prevented from supporting individuals and parties. They just need to do so outside of the workplace and off town property.

“A town employee can’t campaign for any specific politician on town time, and that’s just a common-sense thing,” said ethics committee chair Al Bruno. “We changed the law to include that.” The previous language left the matter too vague, he said. “We didn’t want to leave it open for that kind of abuse.”

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The 2015 incident that spurred the tightening of the policy was investigated by the ethics committee in 2017. A former employee alleged in writing that parks and recreation supervisor Greg Chorvas had singled out his employees registered with the Republican Party and left publicly available information on his desk. According to the allegation, Chorvas had pressured those employees to support specific candidates for endorsement by the Conservative caucus, telling the employees that other candidates would push for cuts within their department.

“I encouraged [employees who would attend the caucus] to vote, but never once did I tell them who to vote for,” said Chorvas in a previous interview with Saugerties Times during the investigation. “I would be nuts to do that after 35 years on the job.”

Bruno said Chorvas wasn’t in violation of the then-current ethics code. 

“Based on the way the law was written, he didn’t violate the ethics law,” said Bruno. “He said that the list [of registered Republicans in the town] happened to be sitting on his desk. I have a list of people in the Republican party at my house. That being said, while it didn’t violate because it wasn’t technically campaign material and he wasn’t advocating for a particular candidate, there was nothing unethical about him having that list. Under the advice of John Greco, after he read it over and over and over again…the ethics board that this was brought up to wasn’t the same board it is today…what we did is back then we said that he’s not guilty.”

After the public hearing, the newly proposed amended local law will be brought before the Saugerties Town Council for approval.

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