The county ethics board’s finding last year that outgoing District 2 Legislator Joe Maloney broke Ulster County’s ethics law has been tossed by a state Supreme Court judge. County Ethics Board Chairman David Spada said the board is thinking about an appeal.
In a 10-page ruling, Judge Richard Mott annulled the board’s finding that by voting twice on matters connected to the county’s contract with the CSEA — which affected his wife, a county employee — Maloney violated ethics laws. In that now overturned decision, Maloney was ordered to pay a $7000 fine, which he could have avoided by resigning. While he chose not to run again for legislature, he did choose to file an Article 78 suit against the ethics board in state Supreme Court.
“I think it should be appealed, but we should probably also factor in the costs of an appeal versus, you know, the precedent of leaving it out there,” said Spada on Monday. “I’m not sure if it’s the board’s decision whether or not to pursue with an appeal or if someone else in the county does. I think we have the authority, but we’ve never been here before.”
Mott wrote in his 10-page decision that two of the board’s December 31, 2018 findings lacked a “basis in substantial evidence” and that state general municipal law exempts votes by local lawmakers on collective bargaining agreements from conflict-of-interest restrictions.
Mott wrote that the third charge leveled against Maloney, described in the board’s complaint as “arguing for funding to be restored for the position of confidential secretary in the Office of the Comptroller, where his wife is employed” was “arbitrary and capricious.”
“I’m pleased by the court’s decision. I have maintained my innocence throughout these proceedings and the court found against both the intent behind these charges, but also the process,” Maloney stated in a press release, adding that the he thinks the county ethics board needs reform and that his battle against what he called cronyism and pay-to-play practices in county politics was behind the charges against him, not his votes.
In his ruling, Mott wrote that the county’s ethics and disclosure law “adopts the general municipal law statutory language which has been interpreted to exclude CBA contracts from its conflict-of-interest provisions.” According to general municipal law subsection 801(c)(2), which is cited in Mott’s ruling, “[conflicts-of-interest provisions] shall in no event be construed to preclude the payment of lawful compensation…of any County officer or employee in one or more positions of public employment.”
Mott noted in his decision that the terms of the contract in question were negotiated by then-county executive Mike Hein, and that Maloney’s wife’s employment in the comptroller’s office preceded Maloney’s election. Mott wrote that the board “fails to cite any provision in the [ethics disclosure law] evincing broader conflict-of-interest prohibitions than the [general municipal law].”
According to a press release from Legislator Dave Donaldson (D-Kingston) in support of the court’s decision, Maloney spent upwards of $11,000 on his Article 78 suit. Donaldson also called for Spada’s resignation from the board.
“As chairman of the legislature’s Laws & Rules Committee that oversees the charter and administrative code, I am calling for Derek Spada to step down from the ethics board,” wrote Donaldson. “I am further requesting that the legislature restructure the Board of Ethics in an effort to prevent this type of abuse from happening in the future, and I am certain the new county executive will work toward that same goal rather than worrying about the executive’s turf of power that seemed to plague the past.”
Maloney also got support from legislature Chair Tracey Bartels. “From the beginning, the actions of the Board of Ethics disturbed me in this case,” said Bartels. “They struck me as significant overreach. I am pleased that the court has had a full opportunity to review the relevant issues in the case and has confirmed my concerns about overreach. The
legislature will take Judge Mott’s determination into account as we revise the county ethics law.”
Maloney, who is departing the legislature on Dec. 31 — Republican Al Bruno will take his seat — said he’s proud of his time in office, turbulence and all.
“My family and I are quite proud of the real and meaningful legislation I sponsored including term limits, limiting elected officials’ names on public-funded public service announcements, plastic bans, bringing back memorializing resolutions and raising healthcare contributions of management and elected [officials] to match that of the rank-and-file union members who make up 80 percent of the county workforce,” Maloney said. “I also challenged nepotism, million-dollar tax exemptions for non-deserving businesses and, most importantly, I began to expose a long, uninterrupted pay for play culture inside our county.”
Maloney continued: “The powers that be threatened by my questions threw the kitchen sink at me in an attempt to silence me. They sank to the lowest of lows but I weathered each storm and now hold my political scars as a badge of honor. I would change nothing over the past two years.”