The Ulster County Legislature last month adopted a pair of policies they say are designed to create an air of transparency in local government. Joseph Maloney (D-Saugerties) was a sponsor of both resolutions, both of which passed with ease.
The policies were discussed during a legislative meeting held on Tuesday, March 21.
The first, adopted unanimously, would require that every organization doing business with the county disclose the names of everyone who has either at least ten percent ownership stake in that business or owns at least ten percent of the company’s stock. The policy will also require that organizations doing business with the county disclose the names of their principals, partners, officers or directors; the names of immediate family members; and the names of any subsidiary businesses controlled either directly or indirectly by the organization.
In touting the policy, Maloney said the policy was partly informed by concerns over organizations doing business with the county where there are personal or familial ties to county officials, citing a “triple-net lease where we’ll be paying school taxes and upkeep and water bills, and insane rent per square foot” entered into on behalf of the Ulster County Board of Elections between the county and Higginsville Station LLC for a property at 79 Hurley Avenue in the City of Kingston. It was later revealed that one of the principals of Higginsville Station LLC is related to former County Executive Pat Ryan.
“I don’t think that’s any way to do business,” Maloney said. “From here on out, if you do business with this county, you’re not going to be able to hide around some made-up name, Rubber Ducky LLC. It won’t matter. We’re going to know who they are and we’re going to make sure there’s no conflicts.”
Maloney credited the Legislature’s Chairperson Tracey Bartels (unenrolled-towns of Gardiner and Shawangunk) with helping shape the policy and move it forward.
“She came on board and strengthened it a great deal,” Maloney said. “She did a lot of research and added some language that made it even tougher to play those kinds of games and hide who you are.”
Sponsored by Maloney and Minority Leader Ken Ronk (R-Shawangunk), the second policy would prohibit anyone holding an elected municipal office from being appointed or elected to certain county positions, including deputy county executives, assistant deputy county executives, Board of Elections commissioners and deputy commissioners, the clerk and all deputy clerks of the county Legislature, the deputy comptroller and director of internal audit and control, the Ulster County undersheriff, and deputy county clerks.
Maloney explained that the policy would assure greater equity in disbursement of county funds and would level the playing field for prospective county employees.
“It just doesn’t make a lot of sense with all this discretionary spending between the county and the towns, or the City of Kingston, to be able to have…a town board member or a supervisor be able to get an appointed position here in the county,” Maloney said. “We are not telling someone they can’t, we’re not allowed to. You can run for office in a town; you can be a town elected official. We’re just not going to appoint you to one of these, many times, high-paying jobs that has to do with discretionary spending around these towns.”
A similar policy was adopted by the Legislature in 2019, but was vetoed by Ryan. Had it come to pass, Ryan’s Deputy County Executive Dan Torres would have had to choose between stepping down from that role or his deputy supervisor position in the Town of New Paltz.
“We had a situation just a couple of years ago where we had the assistant deputy executive, one of a small group of people making big decisions inside the executive’s wing of government, who happened to be the deputy supervisor of New Paltz,” Maloney said. “We’re in a meeting and all of a sudden we’re presented with this great idea to build this little parking lot, take county funds and use it discretionarily over in New Paltz to build some parking lot or something. So what ends up happening is you have someone on in the town saying, ‘Hey, can we have some money?’ to the county, and having that person run over into the county, put on a different hat and say, ‘Yeah, you can have that money.’”
Maloney said that the policy would also give those not employed by municipalities a fairer shot at county positions than they currently have.
“The biggest employer in Ulster County is Ulster County government,” Maloney said. “And the men and women that make up town boards represent .00000000001 percent of the 200,000-person population in Ulster County. But town board members represent a much larger percentage of county employees. Is that a coincidence or does their political involvement get them a heads up to get a political job? It’s not fair.”
Though it wasn’t unanimous, the second policy received just one nay vote.
“I generally don’t like to take anything away from the voters and so I’ll be a no on this,” said Kathy Nolan (D-Towns of Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive and Shandaken).
Maloney said the policy wasn’t as strong as he’d have liked, but added that he was glad to have something in place all the same.
“What we should have done is just grandfathered anybody that was here in and then had a really good policy going forward,” Maloney said. But frustratingly we did not do that. We started trimming this Christmas tree to a point where there’s all these different positions. It’s still better to have this policy as written, but I really wish we would’ve done it the right way.”