North Greenbush Democrats

North Greenbush Democrats
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Monday, March 22, 2010

County Legislative Majority Undermining Ethics Law

Dan Ashley, Chairman of the North Greenbush Democratic Committee has written the Chairman of the Rensselaer County Legislature urging they take a step back from an attempt to impose the Democrats on the Ethics Board on the Democratic Caucus of the Legislature. You can read his letter below.

March 22, 2010

Hon. Martin Reid

Chairman, RC Legislature

1600 7th Ave.

Troy, NY 12180

Dear Chairman Reid,

I wish to express my concern over the effort of your majority to impose the appointment of registered Democrats as members of the County Ethics Board who do not enjoy the support of elected Democrats in the County Legislature. Such a move would erode bipartisan oversight and serve to make the Ethics Board a tool of one political party.

As you are aware, I served in the Legislature when the County Ethics Law was passed in 1992. The bill’s purpose was to create a formula for the ethical conduct of county employees and officials. Part of that formula was to establish a County Board of Ethics in which the Majority and Minority Parties would be represented by two Ethics Board members each. When Democrats held a majority in the Legislature, they accepted without reservation, Republican appointees. Until this past month, Republicans have also respected the nominees offered by Democrats as the minority party in the Legislature.

I am concerned that any effort by any majority party in the Legislature to impose Ethics Board members enrolled in the minority party will serve to erode public confidence in the bipartisan independence expected of the Ethics Board. It would also violate the clear purpose and intent of the statute as practiced and implemented over nearly two decades.

While I do not know one of the registered nominees enrolled as a Democrat being supported by your majority caucus, I am very familiar with the other nominee who is enrolled as a Democrat. Al Spain, an employee of the Republican administration in the city of Troy, enjoys no support from the Democratic Party either in his town of North Greenbush, the County Democratic Committee or the Minority Caucus of the County Legislature.

This is due to the fact that Mr. Spain has demonstrated time and again his affiliation with and loyalty to the Republican Party. While he remains enrolled as a Democrat by checking a box at the Board of Elections, he sought the endorsement of the Town Republican Committee for the office of Town Supervisor last year. He endorsed the four Republican candidates for County Legislature to the exclusion of the four Democrats who were incumbents at the time of his endorsement. He also endorsed the Republican candidate for State Senate and functions as the unofficial “Majority Leader” of the North Greenbush Town Board which includes two Republican endorsed Board members as his “caucus”. In view of Mr. Spain’s past political endorsements and status as an elected town board member, it seems clear he would have difficulty qualifying as an Ethics Board member if he intends to seek re-election and meet the minimum requirements set forth in Section 12 of the law which prohibits participation in any election campaign.

I also point out that Mr. Spain’s ethics record as a Council member in North Greenbush includes two votes to appoint family members to town committees or agencies and a vote to appoint his brother’s attorney to the town payroll in apparent exchange for free legal services for his brother from that attorney. This is currently the subject of an unresolved Ethics Complaint in North Greenbush.

If a Legislative Majority imposes Ethics Board members who are merely enrolled as Democrats while serving the political interests of the Republican Party, the Ethics Board would be rendered a partisan body consisting of four members supported only by the majority party. I believe such an action would violate the spirit and letter of the County Ethics Law.

I urge you to take a step back from further consideration of any enrolled Democrat whose name is not first forwarded to you and supported by the Minority Caucus. The Ethics Law was passed in a bipartisan spirit and the Ethics Law must be enforced in that spirit if the public is to have any confidence in its rulings and findings.

Dan Ashley