Wednesday, July 18, 2007

EDWIN MICHAELIAN MUNICIPAL LAW RESOURCE CENTER ANALYSIS OF PROPOSED ETHICS LAW

The Edwin G. Michaelian Municipal Law Resource Center is a division of the Michaelian Institute for Public Policy in cooperation with Pace University School of Law. The goal is to provide comprehensive services to municipal officials on the complexities and trends in the specialized area of local government law. We recently sent the proposed ethics law (which is scheduled for a public hearing tonight) to Les Steinman, director for an opinion.
In light of the significant concerns stated in the July 17,2007 letter from Les Steinman as to the proposed amendments to the Ethics Code, including e.g., his concerns that the proposed language may violate the First Amendment, intrude in the areas of campaign finance regulation where the State has preempted the field and restrict the release by elected officials of information potentially material to the discharge of their duties which is not deemed confidential under federal or state law , it would be imprudent and irresponsible to pass this resolution as drafted.
I propose that we ask the Ethics Board to revise the proposed amendments to the Code so that they comport with state and federal law.We can also request an opinion from the office of the NY State Attorney General.
July 17, 2007







Hon. Paul J. Feiner

Supervisor

Town of Greenburgh

177 Hillside Avenue

Greenburgh, NY 10607



Dear Paul:



By letter dated April 2, 2007, you requested our review and comments on a draft of proposed changes to Chapter 570, Code of Ethics of the Town of Greenburgh. By letter dated April 19, 2007, we provided comments on those proposed changes. Thereafter, you advised that additional changes had been made to the previously reviewed proposed amendments to Chapter 570 and asked that we review those additional changes. On July 6, 2007, Town Councilman, Francis Sheehan, provided us with a red-line version of amendments to Chapter 570 that are to be the subject of a public hearing on July 18, 2007.



Given the limited time available for our review of those latest revisions, we have the following general observations regarding the proposed legislation:



1. We commend the Town on its efforts to ensure that public business is conducted without actual conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety. However, a code of ethics must be easy for lay persons to understand and apply without resort to lawyers in order to achieve its primary purpose of providing guidance to officials, employees and citizens. Given the legislation’s complexity, the criminal and civil sanctions for its violation and the overbreadth and privacy concerns discussed below, we are concerned that this standard has not been met and that enactment of the proposed legislation may discourage persons from serving the Town.



2. Notwithstanding commendable efforts to ensure a pristine ethical environment within the Town, we are concerned that the prohibitions and mandates in §§ 570-4, 570-7 and 570-8 relating to the acceptance of contributions and the filing of campaign contribution reports may sweep too broadly, infringing upon the First Amendment rights of both contributors and candidates (see generally Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S.1 (1976); Randall v. Sorrell, 126 S.Ct. 2479 (2006)) and/or intruding into areas of campaign finance regulation where the State has preempted the field.[1]



3. We are also concerned that certain restrictions placed on the actions of elected Town officials will impair their ability to effectively serve their constituents and/or unduly restrict their use of information that is otherwise publicly available for the use of others. See § 570-4(L)(4) which would preclude or deter a Town Board member from appearing before the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals to support a Town project or a project deemed to be in the best interest of his or her constituents; § 570-4(B)(1) which would prohibit use of information that is otherwise publicly available and § 570-4(B)(2), (3) which prohibits elected officials from publicly disclosing information potentially material to the discharge of their duties notwithstanding that such information is not made confidential by Federal or State law. Moreover, no provision is made to permit elected or appointed officials or employees to disclose conduct known or reasonably believed to involve waste, inefficiency, corruption, criminal activity or conflicts of interest even under circumstances where such disclosure is expressly protected by State law. See Civil Service Law § 75-b.



4. We recommend that the Town Board consider protecting the privacy interests of those who seek an advisory opinion from the ethics board and those who are required to complete and file financial disclosure forms. See generally “Running a Local Municipal Ethics Board: Is Ethics Advice Confidential?”, by Steven G. Leventhal and Susan Ulrich, Municipal Lawyer, Spring 2004. Confidentiality in the exercise of an Ethics Board’s advisory function is justified as a matter of public policy because it encourages officials to seek ethics advice without fear that the making of such inquiry will be used against them. The Committee on Open Government has opined that the advisory opinions of a town ethics board would be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law unless adopted by the town board as a final determination that the subject officer or employee engaged in official misconduct. N.Y.Comm. on Open Gov’t, FOIL Advisory Op. 8922 (1995).



Similarly, mandatory financial disclosure requirements must be accompanied by a “mechanism to prevent automatic public disclosure of all information provided.” Hunter v. City of New York, 58 A.D. 2d 136, aff’d, 44 N.Y. 2d 708 (1978). See also Barry v. City of New York, 712 F.2d 1554, 1564 (2nd Cir. 1983) upholding New York City’s revised mandatory financial disclosure requirements where provisions of that law enabled an employee to indicate upon submission of his or her financial disclosure information form such information that the person wished to remain confidential. Upon request for public inspection of the employee’s financial disclosure form, the Board of Ethics would evaluate the individual’s privacy request, and based on the personal nature of the information, whether the information was related to the individual’s duties, and whether the information involved a potential conflict of interest, the Board of Ethics would then determine whether to keep parts of the disclosure confidential. Id at 1561-1562.[2]



5. Consideration should be to given to including a waiver provision where strict compliance with a provision or provisions of the legislation would create undue hardship or where a waiver would not be in conflict with the principles and interests of the Town.



6. On a more technical level we have the following additional observations:



(a) § 570-4(L)(1) would appear to require recusal of Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals members where a merchant in town seeks an approval and the members have at one time or another purchased goods or services from such merchant. An application by a local supermarket could result in the entire board having to recuse itself.



(b) § 570-11 (A)(1) states inconsistenty that the members of the Board of Ethics “shall serve at the pleasure of the Town Board” for “terms of three (3) years.” Typically, outside civil service, public officers or employees appointed for a fixed term may not be removed except for cause. By contrast, those serving at the pleasure of the appointing authority may be removed without such protection.



(c) § 570-4(A)(1)(a) could be construed to prohibit inter alia acceptance of a tax refund by a Town resident or the ceremonial acceptance of a gift to the Town, on Town property.



We hope that these comments and observations are helpful in your consideration of the subject legislation.



This memorandum is provided for informational purposes only and may not be relied upon as formal opinion of counsel.







Very truly yours,





Lester D. Steinman

LDS/dl





--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] As discussed in our previous memorandum, the New York State Attorney General has opined that the State has preempted the field of campaign finance regulation, including contribution limits and the reporting and disclosure of receipts and expenditures. See Election Law, Article 14.



[2] Although we have not been provided with the financial disclosure form attached to the proposed legislation, nothing in the legislation indicates that one required to file such a statement has the right to request a redaction of certain information in that form, prior to public disclosure, for purposes of protecting personal privacy.

56 comments:

feiner's new religion said...

funny - all of a sudden mr feiner cares about the law. too bad he didnt exercise such concern when he entered into the illegal westhelp contract.

Sheehan The Unethical said...

Any law that Sheehan proposes and endorses needs to be gone over by experts. Sheehan has no concern for his personal ethics (see violation of first amendment rights of Valhalla School Superintendant) so why should we expect a proper law to be proposed by him?

Anonymous said...

Another lengthy email from Feiner to obscurate the fact that he has taken raising huge amounts of $$ from developers etc. and is selling Greenburgh.

bernstein was going to get deed in his name said...

Read the affidavit from Troy. Bernstein was going to receive a deed--giving him ownership of land next to the nature center. What protections did the residents of Edgemont have? If Edgemont did not secede could he have kept the property that was gifted to him and made a bundle? The Town Council (Bass, Sheehan, Barnes, Juettner) were helping Bernstein, not Edgemont, not the town. Why didn't Bass, Sheehan insist that the deed be given to an organization, the Fire House, the school district?
This is an outrage. This should be investigated.

Anonymous said...

The anti-Feiner bunch can never focus on the real issues, like secrecy, a flawed ethics code, letting Bernstein get Dromore property, etc. That is why they always bring up the same old stories -- Westhelp, in which the entire Board voted, and campaign contributions from people who Feiner never did anything for.

Ho-hum.

Anonymous said...

The deed wasnt going to be given to Bernstein. This is another ploy by a developer who is already giving $$$ to Feiner. A developer who is in litigation agaisnt the Town, supported by Feiner.

PS Bernstein has spent more of his money trying to help Feiner. Feiner doesnt spend, only gives.

Anonymous said...

The affidavit says that Bernstein prepared and sent the developer a deed to transfer the property to Bernstein as a gift. The deed is attached as an exhibit. So unless you are sufficiently paranoid to think that the developer created a phony deed, you will have to stop saying that the deed wasn't going to be given to Bernstein. You are partly right. The developer wasn't stupid enough to give it to Bernstein.

Maybe you are sufficiently paranoid.

Anonymous said...

The deed wasn't going to Edgemont.
The deed wasn't going to the ECC.
The deed wasn't going to Edgemont High School.
The deed wasn't going to the fire house.
The deed was prepared to go to Bob Bernstein.
The Town Council said nothing.
Is this as bad as it gets?

feiner in bed with developer said...

Contrary to what Troy says in his affidavit, the draft language from Bernstein that Troy attaches to his affidavit doesn't say anything at all about giving the property to him.

The document actually says "S&R will convey to the Town by deed outright ownership of the entire premises."

The document shows all Bernstein was trying to do was preserve open space.

So why is Troy lying and why is Feiner believing him?

Because Troy is represented by Feiner's largest campaign contributor. Together they are doing whatever it takes with Feiner to get the property rezoned multifamily so that Troy can make millions selling luxury condos at Edgemont's expense.

In 16 years, Feiner has never saved an inch of open space in Edgemont.

I think it's awful that Feiner sides with developers to kill what's left of the town's open space.

Anonymous said...

"when he entered into the illegal westhelp contract"

I'm no Feiner fan, but come on, NO ONE knew it was illegal at the time.

Anonymous said...

WHere was there open space in Edgemont. Do tell.

Anonymous said...

Sheehan/Berger need to address the ethics of Young Kaminer. Here we have an individual accused of threatening a women in violation of her first amendment rights. Well Sheehan/Berger, does this incident warrant investigation by your vaunted Ethics Board?

Anonymous said...

Feiner is stalling on ethics board -- why so he can take more money. OK, he cant be forced to take money back, but should be not allowed to vote on proposals or have anything to do with where he takes $$$.

Anonymous said...

Ater listening to all the talk about the changes made by the ethics board, I feel there is much more work to be done in this respect.The new laws do not cover the crimes that any member of the town board could make. It seems to try to incriminate one person that is the supervisor. The ethics committee should ask for outside help to put together a law that will justify the goings on of everyone in town government. The way it was presented last night means didelysquatt. They seem to know what they were trying to do, but they cannot put it together.They should not take any advice from the board at this time since they want to cover their ask me no questions.If they cannot come up with good laws wait until some one can. Do not put something in action that will not punish the person or persons involved totally..

Anonymous said...

We know that Sheehan had something to do with the selection of the ethic board,this was because of all the accusations thrown in his direction. Isn't it funny that everyone else is lying about one thing or another, but not him.
The ethics board should go back to the drawing board even if they have to seek outside help,to put forth a good set of laws. We had the present laws for sometime a little more time will not make a difference. The laws have to be changed so one says,then let's make sure that they are fruitful for the purpose that they will be designed for.

Anonymous said...

Sheehan is pushing for new ethics laws because he is trying everything to unseat Paul. Sheehan feels that by putting forth ethics laws that leave loopholes for him to accept money from Berger and then get her firm a million dollar contract but at the same time stop Paul from raising funds, he thinks that is the way to win in November. Sorry Francis but it seems that criminal investigations are about to be launched into your Dromore Road dealings and it is YOUR CRIMINALITY which will be investigated.

Has anyone else noticed the violations of our rights since Francis took control over the Town?

Anonymous said...

Todays NY Times said that Spritzer and the legislative leaders had reached an agreement to study NYC traffic and campaign financing. Every realizes that campaign financing is out of hand and are trying to cut down on it. Except Feiner.

Anonymous said...

Has Feiner raised more money than Berger? The word is that she was selected because she can raise lots of money. So far she has received more than $20,000, much of it from the law firm which is working for Greenburgh.

Anybody have figures?

Anonymous said...

I dont think Berger is taking contributions from developers, labor unions etc. So that is good.

Anonymous said...

It shouldnt cost that much to run for Town Supervisor -- what expenses should someone have? Berger relies on volunteer, in every area of Town. This is how it should be.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that taking money from lawyers who do business with the town is better than taking money from developers who do business with the town? I don't. I guess it is because I haven't fallen for the propaganda that a real estate developer is inherently an evil person.

Don't get me started on who are the inherently evil persons in Greenburgh. A particluar lawyer, a professor in forensics, and a political hack who has never earned an honest living are in that group.

Anonymous said...

Berger has accepted contributions from the towns auditor and from Del Bello's law firm in her capacity as chair of the Greenburgh Democratic Committee. Check the financial disclosure forms. As Feiner said last night the proposed Ethics laws that Sheehan claims are so good will enable sleezey developers, applicants to give to the Democratic Party (chaired by Berger). The party will then give the funds to the members of the Town Council to use during their campaign. DIRECT SLEEZE IS AS BAD AS INDIRECT SLEEZE

hal samis said...

It is time to discuss what the new Ethics laws are really about and it has nothing to do with the desire to actually catch or even discourage anyone from doing something unethical.

It is just another means to attack Feiner, a platform to create some media attention, rehash old news and set off another round of finger pointing and he said, she said. I am not discussing the oft mentioned sins; I am just saying that under the new laws, Feiner would be in no worse shape than he is under the existing laws. Because the Ethics Board still has new power and it all comes back to the Town Board and how they choose to torture, either by sanction or by innuendo. Those "tens of thousands of dollars" of contributions, what did the developers get for their money?

Since I don't believe in giving credit where none is due, let me state flat out the new laws are a fraud. I am sick and tired of hearing how volunteers work long and tirelessly and late at night to bring us manure. These laws suck. If the Ethics Board and the Town Board can't do a good job, then they should not be rewarded for their effort with self-serving platitudes. And if they can't do the job right, then get rid of them. Why appoint anyone who couldn't write a decent tree law and now put them in charge of writing "recommended" ethics laws. I don't begrudge their sincerity and effort but all I am concerned with is the work product. But Ethics is another one of those feel good, apple pie and motherhood words that mask a thousand wrong-doings under its protective shroud. There is nothing about these "tough" new laws which actually insures that if you do the crime, you'll do the time. I am not refering to incarceration. Not only are the proposed laws ineffetual but for every check without a balance there is in addition a back door exit.

This tough law charade is just another version of the emperor's new clothes.

In fact, the only people whose town employment is really covered by these new laws are the workers: the clerks, the secretaries, the
the guys who cut the grass at the town parks. Anyone who is capable of effecting or directing town policy has all the outs and escapes needed to walk away unblemished from almost any crime.

Get caught accepting a deemed "illegal" campaign contribtuion and the Ethics Board "may" recommend a penalty to the Town Board and the Town Board "may" elect to follow the recommendation or it "may" not. And if someone got caught accepting such a contribution, the Ethics Board may recommend a fine of UP TO $250. Let's do the math, give me $1,000 and I may have to pay a fine of $250; thus I would net out ahead $750, if all the "mays" fell into place. Why is the fine capped if you really wanted to discourage accepting contributions? Because each member of the Town Board knows that it could apply to them.

Who actually wrote the proposed laws (which mostly are changes, amendments or deletions to the existing town laws)? For a start the new Ethics Board. Well not exactly the new Ethics Board because their participation ended before the last two members were appointed. So that leaves 3. But weren't they assisted by the Public? Not exactly, very few suggestions by the Public were accepted by the Ethics Board (all 3) and very few members of the Public attended their meetings.

But the next step is even more interesting. The Ethics Board (3) only made recommendations to the Town Board who then made their own changes. So even though you start with an Ethics Board appointed by the Town Board (of course the Public assumes that the Ethics Board is independent or at least as independent as say, the Planning or Zoning Boards) the truth is nowhere near that. Because even though the members of the Planning and Zoning Boards are appointed by the Town Board, the decisions of these two Boards are their own and surviving. That is not to say that there has not been "pressure" from above placed on these Boards; it just means that their decisions are not subject to review of change by the Town Board and that is why the Public assumes that their rulings are above reproach. Similary the Planning and Zoning codes/laws/guidelines are not those of the respective Boards.

However, the Ethics Board has no such independence whatsoever. The Ethics Board cannot make decisions, judgements or create policy -- all they can do is refer to the Town Board.

Now most bloggers whatever their persuasion are aware that the persons who the Public should be most concerned about substandard ethical behavior is likely to come from that class of town employee known as the elected officials. And the most obvious members within this class are a very small number of persons. Yes the Receiver of Taxes is elected but I'm going to give him a "bye" for this writing (screed, rant, however the Town Council and their most prolific writer, Mr. Francis "tens of thousands of dollars" Sheehan choose to respond) and instead focus on the familiar 5 + 1.
The Town Supervisor, the Town Council and the Town Clerk.

This is the group that is most likely to be tempted, offered the most "gifts" and most accused. So when the so-called Ethics Board does write up a recommendation to punish someone, who is going to make the final decision other than the one committing the misdeed. Of course it doesn't take a half empty glass person to see the problem. But the way the Town Board wants you to see it is as a glass half full.

Simply put, despite all the bells and whistles, it comes down to this, the guilty are the ones to judge their own guilt. The bells and whistles that they promote as tough will never ring or toot as long as the ringer and blower are the same.

I'm not intending to get involved with the Troy affidavit for anything other than a convenient illustration of a what can become a thick fog under the much heralded tough ethics laws. Bear with me.

For this illustration (again the disclaimer) let's say that Troy didn't lie in his sworn affidavit; let's say that the four town council members did meet illegally and let's say that a resident made a complaint to the new Ethic Board.
Here is what is perfectly allowable under the the Ethics Laws.

The Ethics Board could refuse to take the case in, claiming there is no merit, no violation of any laws...

The Ethics Board takes the case in and finds the Town Council members guilty of ethics law infractures. The Ethics Board however declines to select an appropriate sanction because they as written "may" decide not to.

They do select an appropriate punishment and they make a recommendation to the Town Board.
The Town Board is composed of the four members of the Town Council and the Town Supervisor.

By a vote of 4 to 1, the Town Board decides that there are no grounds to impose any sanctions whatsoever. But we do have tough new ethics laws which limit the dollar amount to $75 that an employee can make as a wedding gift to another employee.

And to make sure that this "vision" is fixed that we now have tough new ethics laws, the Town Council wants to prevent any close examination of the proposed new laws by the mechanism of a Public Hearing; instead insisting that it move along speedily because it is urgent that the laws be passed asap. The Public Hearing Wednesday was shut down without hearing from anyone who wanted to speak their full piece.
Town Attorney Lewis, earlier identifying himself as the Town Meeting parliamentarian again lied in public by trying to pass of his personal tolerance as though it were something covered by Open Meeting laws. The Town Board cannot tell the Public what they are allowed to use as an illustration of what would be an ethics violation. Naming name in a hearing to review proposed new laws is by no measure a personal attack. Oddly enough, under the new "tough" laws, the Town Attorney is supposed to be held to a higher standard. Keep that job search going Tim.

Isn't anyone tired of this same old song and dance. When are residents going to say stop playing the three card monte game with the Public?

I will be writing further about this fraud later this weekend. In the meantime,
hey Ms Berger, are the new ethics laws ready for prime time? Don't you want tough new laws that could apply to Mr. Bass and Mr. Sheehan?
Don't be shy? This is the kind of judgement call that Town Supervisors have to make every day.
If you want to collect the Town's dime, then what's the Berger line?
Since no one else asks, allow me to do the honors.

Anonymous said...

In today's Scarsdale Inquirer Bob Bernstein states that "We therefore welcome the fact that the town council was willing to work with us in Edgemont to explore whether the property could be protected."

At Wednesday's meeting Bob stated categorically that "no meeting took place." Well Bob, which is it? Did you meet with the developers without any approvals from the Edgemont community or did you not? Did you commit to costing Edgemont taxpayers millions of dollars without asking them first to create your Park District?

Jim, no defense for your buddies???

Anonymous said...

The ethics board is trying .Trying is the word,but they will not be able to put things in order. They did receive some input Wednesday night, but truthfully I do not think they can put it on paper.I would like to know if any of the members had dealing with large corporations .I do not think so. Please before you pass any laws have someone help you .These laws will be the bible of Greenburgh,with no changes made.Do not pass anything until the laws are checked and rechecked. We have some sort of laws in order right now to cover some wrong doings, so we can wait until the final draft is implimented.Maybe the ones that were chosen for the ethics board do not have the right qualifications to take on such a delicate task.

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear Anonymous 7/19 5:30PM,

If you want to view the various campaign finance filings, the following is the URL;

www.elections.state.ny.us/NYSBOE/finance/officetext.htm

At this site one may enter the office held or sought and the county. Entering Town Council and Westchester, one will see filings for Mr. Bass, Mr. Morgan, and Mr. Sheehan.

For those not interested in going there, as of the last filing that just occurred, Mr. Bass has $46,692.69, Mr. Morgan has $3,967.05, and Mr. Sheehan has $1,128.09.

A review of the current period and those of prior periods that are on line reveal some interesting things.

Re Mr. Bass: On December 11, 2005 he reported a contribution from Mr. Robert Bernstein in the amount of $250. When a number of elected officials from the Villages questioned him on the appropriateness of accepting funds from an individual who was suing HIM (as a member of the Town Council) and on a matter that was subject to an appeal by the Town on behalf of the entire Town, Mr. Bass apparently "got religion" and returned the funds on 2/3/2006. (I can see another blog posting "Kolesar raises "old news"")(guess who that will come from - anyone want to guess an attorney whose name has been in the news quite a lot recently?)

Now to some other interesting contributions. Mr. Bass has received $750 from the Police Association of the Town of Greenburgh ( $250 in the 2006 cycle and $500 in the current cycle). Now I don't know about you all, but doesn't that strike one as a possible conflict of interest? Doesn't Mr. Bass have to vote on promotions, possible disclipinary actions, and the police contract?

When I was an elected Trustee in Ardsley, the Ardsley PBA sent me a season's greeting card with a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant. I returned it with a letter explaining the possible conflict. (I believe that I still have an electronic copy if one is interested). Clearly, I couldn't be swayed by a $25 gift, but it was the mere appearance that I wanted to avoid. Up to this minute, no one in Ardsley other than the Ardsley PBA was aware of this. I have walked in the shoes and role of a public elected official. So my posting should be considered that I write from first hand experience.

On another matter, Mr. Bass had previously accepted $125 from the Westchester Federal Credit Union. He had no problem approving their lease of space in Town Hall. Didn't recuse himself. Even if at fair market rent, was this appropriate? By the way, in the latest filing, he got some more religion and returned it.

The latest filing does not show that Mr. Bass returned the $250 from Bennett Kielson (the Town's independent auditors and for whom he voted a three year deal, again without any mention of the contribution or recusing himself) as a blogger on another subject had "reported." I guess their "facts" weren't correct.

CSE PAC $300 - ?

I realize that campaigns cost money. Been there, done that. But I also recused myself at the hint of any possible conflict and disclosed this to the people of Ardsley. It's in the public record.

These campaign finance filings make interesting reading. Enjoy.

Michael Kolesar said...

Lest I be accused of not being an equal opportunity critic, now to the Supervisor's contest.

Mr. Feiner reports a balance of $152,782.18, while Ms. Berger has $15,563.27.

As noted on another posting, the two years of data that is on line shows that the Supervisor has accepted $800 from Bennett Kielson, the Town's auditors (same issues from the previous posting). No doubt more in prior filings, but I am not going to the Westchester Board of Elections to look at these. Anyone may.

Also I see that the Teamsters PAC has contributed $1,500 over a number of periods (voting on a labor contract not an issue?)

United Food Workers $250 - another labor contact for those who provide the meals program?

Again, campaigns cost money, but when one oversees or votes on contracts, it doesn't look good.

Anonymous said...

The ethics board,should not continue with the business of implementing new laws for the town of Greenburgh. They are not ready to complete this task, after the Wednesday night meeting,one can see that much more studing has to be done. If the laws are changed they should be done right or not at all.
.

Anonymous said...

During Suzanne's tenure as chair of the Greenburgh Dem's she has accepted contributions from the town's auditors. She has also accepted contributions from law firms that deal with the town.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I went to the Board of Elections and I received a copy of the Greenburgh Democratic Town Committee's contibutor list for the the last few years, under the so-called watchful eye of Ms Berger. There are contributions from law firms and the same people who give to Supervisor Feiner. It is there for all to see. Also monies given to the committee from Weingarten, etc., and others can be distributed to whom they wish. Therefore almost any contribution given to the party could be tainted.

With regards to Feiner's campaign bank account, it has been built up over many and there are literally hundreds if not thousands of small contributions, from every day people over the years. Check it out!

Also, the difference, from my lips, is that Paul Feiner has been incredibly honest, a great public servant and a 24/7 administrator and legislator.

The present ethics code is a charade to punish transparency and open government, championed by Paul Feiner.

Yes, Paul has met with developers, and so has the world. Developement happens, that's why we have climbed out of the caves. Zoning laws have been amended for hundreds of years. My old section of White Plains, Prospect Park, was an apple orchard and a watering ground and a well for Hessian soldiers! But time and necessity determine changes in public policy.

The effort by Bernstein and McNally, and their allies, was to rope the Board into a secret and according to the sworn statement, an illegal situation with a developer, who probably had no clue that their meeting was unethical, no less illegal. The Bernstein group essentially, it seems, saw an opening to exploit Edgemont's reticence about new housing affecting their school enrollment. It seems that they were able to promise S & R a deal, where they would be able to slip in through a loop hole in a faux moritorium, and allow them to build some housing, cede a piece of the land over to Bernstein's group through his efforts, and have the money raised through a referendum that dealt with acquiring the land as a buffer. The public in Edgemont would have no clue of why they were voting for funds to acquire the land. They would assume it would be for blocking housing. Then Bernstein, and his group, would control a piece of property for a village hall and move towards incorporation and secession. It was a clever plan, but S & R did not like the deal and blew the whistle. I am sure he didn't have to invent one word of it and has witnesses to back him up. He felt manipulated and used. Barnes and Juettner were brought in to seal the deal and give cover to Bass and Sheehan, and they probably had no clue about its implications. For Barnes to assist in the secession of Edgemont is a real joke. If she is, and was, unaware of her complicity she should be turned out of office for that alone.

Supervisor Feiner was given the deposition, recognised the illegality of these meetings and understood immediately the implications of this secret deal. They kept it secret so they could "buffalo" the Edgemont voters. Their real aim was secession, nothing more or less. So another small group, that essentially poses as a legitimate neighborhood association strikes again. These phonies position themselves as neighborhood leaders time and time again. They get elected by a tiny group of their allies and friends and then create personal policy in the name of their faux groups. They go to the Greenburgh Council of Neighborhoods, take notes, pass resolutions, go in front of the Town Board and pose as heralds of the people. They are phonies to the core. Whe I was the Prospect Park President in White Plains, we had bi-annual neighborhood meetings with large quorums and I never spoke with the Park's authority and without a strong mandate on a narrowly drawn issue. These people have been issued carte blanche hunting and fishing licenses for years and all their groups should be forced to submit rosters of meetings, votes, and minutes of their neighborhood meetings and resolutions. I brought that up in front of the Town Board years ago. I was quite familiar with these power hungry, unelected types. But they are all over and they are dangerous. They most often represent themselves and not their legitimate constituencies. But, of course many or even most neighborhood associations serve a good and great purpose in protecting their interests. There is nothing wrong with that and I did the same thing. It is these faux leaders of "rump associations" that I, and all of you, should fear.

By the way, while we are talking ethics and contributions, I have the recent filing for Ms. Suzanne Berger, the Greenburgh Town Democratic Chairperson, who is also a candidate for the office of Greenburgh Supervisor. Ms. Berger lists 98 contributions on her list, and 32 of those contributors work for her law firm and have contributed over 33% of her $20,958 political war chest. Of the $14,240 that is left over, $2400 comes from district leaders, political action committees, and Judges. This represents almost 17% of the balance that is left. I have no idea how many other lawyers have contributed to Ms. Berger’s campaign, but one could easily bet that this is the tip of the iceberg. In other words, at least 43% of her money comes from her law firm and her political connections, in and out, of Greenburgh. The question going forward, that should be on everyone’s mind, is who are the rest of the contributions from? Is all her backers law firms, political connections, and people who want to do business with the Town.

Of course the law firm that Ms. Berger is associated with, Bryan and Cave, received a no-bid contract from the this Board, which Supervisor Feiner voted against, and one of her big backers is Charles McNally, the husband of Michelle McNally, who seems actively involved in the Edgemont secessionist movement. It was also the McNally’s contribution and influence that seemed direct Councilperson Bass’s obstruction on the tree legislation of last year.

I have nothing against people exercising their right to give to a political campaign, but I wonder how much influence these power broker friends are buying? Usually one would ignore these contributions as business as usual coincidences. But, when the Chairperson of the Greenburgh Democrats is also facilitating a no-bid contract with the Town, more scrutiny should be observed.

When questioned at the Town Board meeting about her firm's contributions, she said they were freinds for 20 years. Well that seems quite a stretch, since this firm merged with her old firm and she could hardly know many of these people for 20 years. They gave to her because she was running for office, and this could mean a strong connection with a "center of influence" for their firm. What else is new?

I suggest that all of you wake up out there and take off your rose color glasses. You have an honest, hard-working guy with Paul Feiner. You may not like or love him, but he is miles ahead of Suzanne Berger, who knows little about Greenburgh or elective office. If you want to trade 24 years of hard productive and honest toil for a political facilitator, then you'll get what you deserve.

Meanwhile, I suggest that any new ethics legislation be held over until the partisanship and antagonism of this Board is settled.

Richard J. Garfunkel

Anonymous said...

The McNally family--Mr. Garfunkel--also helped kill the tree law in town. We don't have tree protection in Edgemont because the McNally's contributed money to members of the town council and are lobbyists against the legislation.

Anonymous said...

As of today the new laws provided by the ethics board should be studied by persons of authority. The laws the way they read now are not ready to be voted on. Either they don't know what they are doing or are they influenced by the four council members.As Samis keeps saying three votes will be needed to defeat the resolution if the wording of the laws are not suitable to be enforced.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to think that even if the ethics board put forth a set of governing laws, the four council members would be able to go arround them to suit their fancy.I do not think that they ever paid attention to the laws in many of their desicions.The laws have been Sheehan's laws since he became a board member. Does it say that he has been correct by no ,means.His double talk has convinced the ethics board that their and his input is the way to go. WRONG,WRONG.Let's not make the mistake of passing something that only helps to give more power to Sheehan and company.

garfunkel and feiner - wrong for town said...

garfunkel's paranoia is pathetic. garfunkel sees cabals and conspiracies where none exist. garfunkel and feiner have lead greenburgh into a political dead end. yet, they have the audacity to ask the voters for more time to do......nothing other than keep paul in the supervisor's seat. feiner is probably the most disliked politician in westchester county. as a former comptroller who quit because she couldnt abide by feiner's ethical lapses and double dealing observed - he is a public servant for himself. 16 year of feiner is enough.

Anonymous said...

As a former comptroller what was your years of employment. Did you have any troubles hiding the Westhelp monies ,,to be spent. Someone before Heslop has the answers ,maybe you're the one.

Anonymous said...

Dear 11:25am-

Please tell us that you did not watch the performance of Candidate "SHUT UP" Berger on Wednesday night.

It was embarrassing and that is not someone who has demonstrated that she has the leadership abilities to break the posturing and deep sleep by the existing majority of the board.

She also did not see any issue with funneling "blind" contributions to Town Board candidates through her Democratic party cash machine, completely circumventing, at minimum, the intent of the proposed Ethics Laws.

Is this the deal that you want to sign Greenburgh up for at this time?

Don’t count me in on that idea.

Anonymous said...

The ethics board is not ready to adopt and new laws,as of Wednesday night's meeting. They have too much work to do. Sheehan is pushing for them to come up with amendments right away ,reasons to many to write on this blog. The public at the meeting was right ,do not complete your final draft until the residents have the final word. But as you know Sheehan has the strong arm on every department in Greenburgh,so the publics' voice will not be heard.

Anonymous said...

The ethics board needs a good lawyer,who woked with corporations ,to put forth good laws governing all .Sheehan wants them to hurry up with what they tried to put forth,which was totaly wrong. It was going after one person that being the supervisor. Come on now ethics board are you all blind not to see what Sheehan expects you to say.I as a lay person watching the meeting on Saturday,heard the same thing coming from Sheehan's mouth over and over again."contribution made by Kneilson"I may have spelled the name wrong. but you know dam well what his motive is .Get the supervisor.

feiner's 16 years = still doubt said...

if after 16 years of feiner its not self evident he should be re-elected,he never will be. its time for him to leave office

Anonymous said...

The ethics board that is in position to set down the laws to govern the town of Greenburgh, should be let go. It was quite evident that they are not working for the town but Sheehan.

Anonymous said...

Dear 6:59 pm-

Please tell us that you did not watch the performance of Candidate "SHUT UP" Berger on Wednesday night.

Anonymous said...

"Ethics code changes raise concerns in Greenburgh"

http://lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070723/NEWS02/707230344/1018/NEWS02

Anonymous said...

Read todays Journal News July 23 and see what is written about the laws that the ethics board is trying to put into action. Many of the comments made on the blog were saying the same thing. Boy is Sheehan and Bass going to be Hopping mad that they cannot put forth the ideas that they want implimented for their benefit.Kudos go out to the reporter.

Anonymous said...

The reporter, Ms Rebecca Baker, in the Journal News hit the nail right on the head in her first sentence, when she stated, "Good-government advocates are questioning plans to change the town's ethics code, saying new rules about information sharing could violate the First Amendment."

The argument that was posed at Wednesday night's Town Board, was just that!

Basically it is an anti-whistle blower law they are trying to create, slip past the public, and be used against anyone who attempts to harness or restrict the power of the Board, including the Supervisor.

The law was legally and constitutionally critiqued by many observors on Wednesday. it was affectively pointed out that there were many, many, loop-holes, but the obtuse language was made to obscure the real gist of the changes. The changes were made to punish someone like Supervisor Feiner, who exposed the Troy Affidavit, that revealed a history of intrigue, illegal meetings, and double dealing by Edgemont power brokers. The deal, as anyone with a wit of intelligence knows, was to create a phony moritorium, based on protecting the Edgemont schools, pay off a developer for his time, and sweat, and get the taxpayers of Edgemont to buy a piece of land for the eventual purpose of erecting a villege hall as the centerpiece of the Edgemont secession plan.

But people like Christina Bottego of Common Cause were able to see through this charade and recognise its fabrication. She said the "abuse of information section would provide less transparency, not more." What else would you suspect from Bass and Sheehan, who pulled the wool over the eyes of their more gullible colleagues.

She stated clearly, "(It) seems set up to protect the governing body, rather than the citizens of Greenburgh."

Bottego said the proposed changes are "marginal" at best, noting that the Ethics Board has no enforcement power and can only advise the the Town Board.

Ironically with all of this heat generated by this new Ethics Board, the real story goes quietly by them. Candidate Suzanne Buerger, the Greenburgh Democratic Town leader has recieved a high percentage of her campaign contributions from the law firm whom she is "of counsel." In other words, who she works for. That is not unusual on its face, but she facilitated a Town contract, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, through the efforts of one Francis Sheehan, a Town Board member. It would not be a stretch to believe that these contributions were a type of reward.

Ms. Berger squealed at the Town Board meeting as she cried "Shut up" to her outraged critics. She claimed that these contributors were friends of hers at the law firm for twenty years. That's a bit strange because her former law firm Robinson Silverman Pearson... merged with Bryan Cave in 2002, and it is hard to believe that she knew even a fraction of these contibutors for twenty years!

Ironically, Berger has a history of representing firms like Barnes and Noble regarding "Freedom of Information" issues, but in this case she seems reticent to oppose her political benefactors.

Richard J. Garfunkel

Anonymous said...

Today's Journal News Editorial is a major defeat for the Sheehan/Bernstein Cabal. Yes Frances & Bob, we do have First Amendment Rights here in Greenburgh.

feiner is unfit said...

funny how garfunkel is silent on the other part of the ethics law at issue in the journal news - the one stopping elected officials from taking campaign contributions from those with applications pending before the town or its boards. why? because this is how feiner raises his money. the proposed law would close this shameful practice. too bad we cannot make feiner give back what he took from his developer pals and their agents and associates. that feiner cannot see how corrupt this practice is just shows how unfit he is to be supervisor.

Anonymous said...

To:Anoymous 11:31

With regards to your remarks about Feiner and the developers. You are beating a dead horse. He has been in office, representing this area for 24 years. He has, obviously accumulated contributions and I assume he has been careful about their dispersal.

His opponent, Ms. Suzanne Berger has alreaded accumulated $21,000 in a very short time and therefore it is not unusual for a person running for public office to accumulate money. With regards to an inexperienced and untried canididate like Ms. Berger, her law firm, her lawyer friends, and the political bosses of Westchester have invested a lot in her campaign. Why? Power, that is all! They are making an investment, for possible future considerations. What else is new?

She's a moderate Democrat I suppose, though I have heard little from her mouth, reflective of public policy, in the last 5 years, and certainly Supervisor Feiner has been one of the most progressive Democrats in the County's history. His progressive and transparent record goes from here to the moon. He's been endorsed by RFK Jr. and the League of Conservation Voters (2005) and numerous progressive, good-government, open-government, conservationist and socially attuned groups.

So therefore, what is the real difference on ethics and issues? Berger certainly has no edge on ethics, and experience? She has none! She has to be close to 50 years old and has never held office and was defeated in a race for a local judgeship. Feiner is not much older and has been active in politics, shaping and initiating progressive policy since he was 15! By the way he has done an excellent job. The bond ratings have never been better, the town services are excellent, the parkland is great and the receation department provides wonderful services and he follows-up on non-partisan constituent needs on a 24/7 basis. Could Berger do the same? I doubt it.

Berger doesn't know much about Greenburgh, she has never managed a company or an entity of any kind. She even has talked about an expensive ($150,000+) town manager. So what does she bring to the table? Power to the bosses, inside and outside of Greenburgh, plain and simple.

Supervisor Feiner has never been in the pocket of developers, and he has always worked to prevent over-building. As I recall he was the author of "steep slopes" legislation.

Zoning laws and building needs always reflect the changes in society. The catchall phrase of being in the hands of developers is insincere, inaccurate and antidulivian.

The public will decide what is right and wrong for Greenburgh, and when the public learns the truth over the machinations of this rump Board ruled by Sheehan-Bass-Bernstein Troika, it will rise in indignation and thrown them out.

Richard J. Garfunkel

garfunkel doesnt get it said...

keep dreaming richard

voters are tired of 16 years of feiner's gadfly antics. many residents esp long termers think town services have gone way down hill. Feiner's recent screwups in WestHelp, Taxter Ridge, the new home depot just north of greenburgh, the library and the tree case only show that as he stays longer on the job he is proving the truth of the peter principle. as another blogger noted, under feiner's watch, the town has basically ceased to exist and the villages are studying how to leave. this act has gone stale and its time to lower the curtain.

hal samis said...

So when the curtain is lowered and the cast traditionally lines up for their applause, there won't be anyone there. And if long terms are bad, then ask Eddie Mae Barnes and Diana Juettner to pick out their favorite pasture.

Because on your list of faults are faults which received five votes in favor -- all but the Library which is the problem of just the Town Council.

But first, check your ticket stubs, the performance that you and your anonymous friend attended might have been that of "the great Bobby Bruce" master illusionist. The night you were there, did he do the trick where he made an entire School District vanish?

Anonymous said...

By the way, anon 3:39 pm

I don't know what you are inhaling but it is certainly dangerous to your health and your remarks indicate the onset of dementia. Speaking of long-term care, I happen to specialize in that area of insurance, and I suggest you seek out a provider.

Taxter Ridge is where it is, and I have no clue why its acquisition is some sort of black eye for Paul Feiner. As I recall it was over-whelming support of the community, led by Danny Gold and others, and a unanimous vote of the Board that supported the purchase of that tract of land. WestHelp has been answered sufficiently (check the other blog, no one cares anymore, fool) and again the Board and the relevant commisioners signed off on that situation for years. The tree situation on Round Hill Road was handled strongly by the Supervisor and any proposed tree legislation, I believe, has been bottled up by one Steve Bass.

With regards to the library boon-doggle, the Supervisor had suggested the sale of part of the land for the use of either needed senior housing or an assisted living facility. He also called for a reasonable library rehabilitation for half the cost, and without major dislocation. The Town Board bought the Library Board's sales pitch, hook, line and sinker. So why is that the Supervisor's fault? In other words he should have campaigned against it, and next he would have been painted as a "book burner." So where is this smoking gun you are railing about. In essense, it was the Supervisor that has sought new blood to this moribund Board two years ago, and again, in this election cycle. So you want change? Well bringing on Suzaane Berger will solve none of your problems. She will just be a convenient doormat for the Sheehan-Bass-Bernstein axis to trample on at will.

Supervisor Feiner has been independent, progressive and innovative. In other words, many others and I don't know what you nameless critics want. Why don't you have the guts to sign your names, and stop worrying about whether your neighbors will know what type of a dolt you are. But my guess is that 99% of the anti-Feiner, cowardly, comments come from two or three people. At least three or four of us stand behind what we say.

My thoughts are that the Feiner arguments, which are being articulated here will carry the day. Hal Sammis has been a vocal critic of Paul Feiner for years and at least he has courage of his convictions to say what he believes. I apologise to no one and I support the Supervisor because I sincerely believe that he has done an honest and excellent job.

Richard J. Garfunkel

2 more years? spare us please said...

Suggestion - move Feiner's wall in front of Webb Field/Press Park to Garfunkel's front yard. As for Taxter Ridge, why dont you ask the villages how much they like it now that they are paying for it?

If Feiner is so marvelous, why is he stuck in Greenburgh, a dead end of his own making? Garfunkel and his ilk (like the "shadow") want to stick us with this peter (un)principled career politician like some sort of baby doc supervisor for life. As for the tree case, this was yes another monumental failure by Feiner in having the town woefully uninsured. Once again, ask villagers how they like paying for the bonds to pay the settlement to the victims of feiner's failure to have a tree maintenance plan in place because he is penny wise and pound foolish. As for WestHelp, Feiner told fib after fib about why the money was needed to payoff the neighborhood. Nevermind that Feiner made nice nice to the mayfair-knollwood folks who were cited by the federal courts for playing the race card when they sought to break off from the town. And we are still waiting for Feiner and Garfunkel to explain why Feiner takes campaign money from the town's outside auditors? Thats a disgrace. Do we really need two more years of this?? Sixteen years is enough.

garfunkel wrong again said...

re WestHelp - the state comptroller's office found it was illegal. As usual, Garfunkel ignore that inconvenient truth.

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear 2 more years? spare us...,

Please don't omit Mr. Bass as one who has accepted and so far kept monies from the Town's auditors.

Anonymous said...

the real problem is that there is no competition for bennett kielson

one even wonders why they give campaign contributions in the first place

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how the conference call went today concerning the ethics board. Paul please comment before the voting takes place.

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear Anonymous 7/25 1:14PM,

Don't kid yourself. There's plenty of competition out there to do these audits, especially since many are done during the summertime or in the old days the "slow" season.

When was the last time any of these municipalities or school districts went through a competitive bid process? The entity's financial management has a stake in not upsetting things, the elected leadership for the most part, no disrespect intended, wouldn't know what questions to ask and how to judge the bidders. That's why municipalities need audit committees made up of knowledgeable professionals who can provide oversight, just as they do for corporations.

The Government Finance Officers Association ("GFOA")is in favor of audit committees (one can go to their web site and find their position paper on audit committees). I am proud that the Village of Ardsley created one while I was a member of that Board.

It can be done and doesn't cost much. The benefits could be very significant. Think about the WESTHELP accounting fiasco and the role an audit committee could and would have played.