North Greenbush Councilmen Richard Fennelly and James Mihalko have filed suit in State Supreme Court to nullify a 62%, $25,000 LUMP SUM pay raise given to the Town Attorney who is the spouse of Councilman Robert Ashe’s private sector employer, the President of Bonded Concrete.
“We believe this raise is a gross violation of General Municipal Law, Town Law as well the Town Ethics Law which the board majority has ignored since taking power three years ago. If left unchallenged, this majority or a future majority could dole out tens of thousands of dollars in lump sum pay raises to the politically connected in the final weeks of their term and empty the public treasury”.
Town Law §27 provides, in relevant part, "Salaries shall be in lieu of all fees, charges or compensation for all services rendered to the town". At the time that the town attorney performed the work for which she was authorized the additional $25,000 lump sum, she was receiving her salary. As such, we believe this additional pay raise is a violation of laws governing the compensation of salaried town employees. There was also no prior Board approval for additional compensation for this work. At most this money could have been pro rated and then only when subject to a Local Law to increase the salary of this official.
The Town Ethics Code §13-5(G) similarly prohibits Councilman Ashe from pursuing a course of conduct that will raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of the public trust. Again, Councilman Ashe’s failure to recuse himself from consideration of questions regarding the Town Attorney’s employment and compensation, raises suspicion among the public that there is wrongdoing going on. Because the provision of the $25,000 lump-sum bonus was illegal for the reasons set forth in the litigation, all of the respondents’ violated the Town’s Standard of Conduct prohibiting the "use of [one’s] official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or others". North Greenbush Town Code §13-5(C).
Councilman Ashe has a prohibited conflict of interest when it comes to questions regarding the retention and compensation for the wife of his boss by the Town of North Greenbush. The possibility that the provision of employment and additional compensation of Linda Mandel Clemente will result in a direct benefit to Councilman Ashe is a conflict of interest as defined by the Town of North Greenbush Town Code §13-4. The only way for Councilman Ashe to avoid the prohibited conflict of interest is to recuse himself from consideration of matters pertaining to the employment and compensation of Linda Mandel Clemente. See Opinion of the Attorney General No. 97-5 (If the interests of a Council members employer are affected by matters before the council, recusal is the appropriate course of action).
Councilman Ashe’s vote in favor of the resolution providing a $25,000 lump-sum bonus to Linda Mandel Clemente should be rescinded by Order of the Court. Without Councilman Ashe’s vote in favor, the Resolution fails by a vote of 2-2. The resolution should therefore be declared null and void.
This briefly sets forth the reasons we have acted to protect the taxpayers of North Greenbush from what is an on-going effort by Councilman Ashe to curry favor with his employer by the enrichment of the employer’s spouse. We regret that the majority has been a party to this effort and will act to reverse and end this practice.