Friday, July 27, 2007

NEW ETHICS LAW CONTAINS LOTS OF LOOPHOLES

The Town Board voted 4-0 to approve a new Ethics Law tonight (Councilwoman Eddie Mae Barnes was absent). The law, which I voted for, prohibits incumbent officials from accepting campaign contributions from applicants, their legal representatives or consultants.
I was disappointed that the Board approved a law that contains lots of loopholes. If we want a strong ethics law it should be loophole free.
This law allows Greenburgh political parties to receive contributions from applicants, their legal representatives or consultants. Candidates (who can't accept money directly) can then receive contributions from the party (which received donations from the same people prohibited from giving directly). This doesn't make sense.
Employees can't contribute to incumbent officials but can volunteer in their campaign. The Town Board should have approved my recommendation to make employment with the town free of any political pressure.
Labor unions (they lobby for changes in labor contracts, salary adjustments and file grievances) can continue to make donations to incumbent officials.
Town Judges can accept contributions from lawyers appearing before the court.
Citizens - who have applications pending before the Zoning Board, Planning Board or who lobby for or against legislation (such as the tree law) can give to incumbents.
If we are going to adopt a law we can be proud of it should be loophole free.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

one two three testing one two three

feiner 's dissembling again said...

get real. feiner will be the first one to expoit these loopholes in the same manner he did under thr prior ethics code. time after time feiner poses as a reformer - no 16 year incumbent and career politician can claim that title.

Anonymous said...

How can the council members pass a format of ethics laws with many loopholes, THis is what the Sheehan gang wanted from the beginning .Now we all have to monitor the political parties by having them disclose all contributions made to candidates, plus have an audit concerning the same. The ethics board may say that changes can be made down the road, forget about it,with the council that we have now in office the laws are in their favor and no no changes will be made.

feiner has lost all credibility said...

the council wanted a tougher law - feiner stood in their way

the council wisely did not sacrifice the good for the perfect

feiner's actions regarding campaign reform have now shown him to be an obstacle to reform.

Anonymous said...

The laws should have been presented with no loopholes. This is what causes a lot of problems down the road.The rush was on because Sheehan said so. Here we go again somethings never change. When Sheehan wants something done he will study how things could be done so to cover this rear end just in case,he or the other council members get caught in any wrong doings as the Dromore Rd case.The politics in Greenburgh are becoming a total mess. We have 'nt got a government for the people anymore it's Sheehan's call all the way right or wrong. THank you ethics board for not giving us the best ethics laws in Westchester. If you were not able to do your job to the fullest you should have said so and resign. After all you're all volunteers,who follow instructions given to you by the council members. I.m sure that there were others who applied for a position who knew how to cross their Ts and dot their Is. Maybe they were too smart for the council to dijest.

Anonymous said...

Hal I'm waiting to see you twist on the new ethics laws. You were at the meetings so no one better than you can give us your opinion.TY

REPEALNO BID CONTRACT WITH BERGER FIRM said...

The Town Council should revoke the contract they have with Suzanne Berger's law firm.
Her firm members are donating significant dollars to the Berger campaign (see her financial report). Her firm got a whopper of a contract without competitive bidding/interviews.

Anonymous said...

How much was the contract the Town Council awarded the Berger law firm worth?
Six figures.
Other firms wanted the job and weren't even interviewed by the Town Council.

Anonymous said...

Berger's firm received a substantial contract that may go up to six figures,by Sheehan and co. This was done without interviewing other firms. Sheehan put up a big fight with the supervisor at the town meeting that night. I think Bass and the supervisor were against the granting of the contract to Berger's firm. A complaint should be filed against Sheehan and his two female sidekicks,for going ahead with this firm without taking the steps to see if another firm would do the work for less. You see it's a known fact that she is keeping the seat warm for Sheehan since she stated that she wants a judgeship.Oye vey.there goes the judicial system.

Anonymous said...

The contract to Bergers firm should be terminated, and all monies contributed to her campaign should be given back.This should have never taken place but lord Sheehan saw to it that her firm got the first and only shot at this contract. The board of ethics should have something to say about this transaction, but since it is Sheehan's baby it will get pushed under the rug.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Feiner will be the first one to use the loophole. His campaign contributions have always come from those with business before the town board. He must be pleased.

feiner already loophooling said...

absolutely right
feiner has already formed another political party probably to exploit the loopholes

Anonymous said...

MAy I ask you, in todays world who gives to campaigns. It's not the working person ,who cannot afford to do so. All large contrbutions come from Lawyers .Developers, and people in high income bracket. So the loopholes no matter who is running for office, will be useful for these contribution. You will see the four council members ,indirectly will take advantage of these loopholes also.You keep saying that Feiner will abuse the system, remember he did not do anything behind closed doors as did the council with Dromore Rd. Were they not taking a short cut,to acquire a piece of property,without consent of the residents of the same area in fact without the knowledge of our own town attorney, and supervisor. Were they not guilty of improper practice ,does this not say that they went through the loophole.With all the complaints made against the supervisor for contributions that he received in the past years, not one law enforcement group convicted him for a crime. So I think it;s about time that the comments stop concerning what took place then. Show me one politian who does not receive contributions for their campaigns.Remember they are tax deductable..

Anonymous said...

Is it true that Berger's law firm charges rates that exceed that of the other firms that expressed interest in bidding on the land use contract with the town?
The Town Board should terminate the contract with Berger's law firm.

Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding,Sheehan will kill himself. He was the one that initiated the vote for the contract,and the ladies followed him.The reason has been mentioned many times in the blog. Berger's ambition is to start with supervisor and soon after that eyeing a judgeship. If and when this happens Sheehan will take over the supervisor's slot. This was planned a long time ago. One hand washes the other.

Anonymous said...

The ethics board will do nothing to terminate the contract, because their boss is Sheehan.There was some madness to Sheehan's method,but it will cost much more money with this firm than getting another. He refused to have other firms interviewed.This is not open government.Again the ethics board will say noting to Sheehan, because the one thing on their mind is get the supervisor..

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what Feiner's new political party is named?

"Developers R US" ?

Anonymous said...

Hal, are you joining the new party?

hal samis said...

I shall be posting a detailed "what's wrong" with the ethics laws later this week.

In the meantime, don't be fooled by the volunteers and long hours and hard work saga that has been presented as the reasons the ethics laws should not criticized. The laws are sloppily written, contain many loopholes and are not serving any purpose other than allowing the Town Council to cop a few headlines.

My respect for some residents went out the window on this one. In particular, one long-standing staple of Town Board Meetings who did a 180 degree turn from an oft reiterated belief that printed revised versions of draft laws be available more than a hour or two before a Public Hearing on the laws.

Apparently this time it is ok.

Another 180 degree rotation is that it is now ok to pass laws with obvious mistakes and errors and not to try to correct them before passing the law. To hear this resident say that we can always make the changes afterward is the antithesis of this resident's numerous visits to the podium.

Apparently this time it is ok.

It is never ok.

What is does mean is that panic is going on in the Berger camp.

And don't let anyone convince you that the urgency to pass these laws had any basis other than politics in an election year.

Anonymous said...

There is no panic in the Berger camp. What there is a town that is tired of being for sale.

Anonymous said...

the town bd sold out. they gave a contract to berger's law firm without interviewing firms that charged lower hourly rates. berger is the chair of the democratic town committee. sheehan paid berger back by giving her law firm a huge contract worth hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Anonymous said...

So Hal,

Are you joining the new political party in Greenburgh? "Developers R US"

hal samis said...

Even Edgemont wants development; they just want some kinds of development and not others.

When the policeman on the beat and the clerk in Town Hall and the librarian at the circulation desk want raises next year, you can dig deeper into your pocket or you can thank Developers.

What makes School Boards more responsible than Developers?
There is nothing wrong with development as a concept but it depends on the availability of land. As Greenburgh has less each year, taxpayers really should be worrying about from whose pockets those annual raises are coming from and not just about Developers
looking for their next deal.

Anonymous said...

If HAl Samis were on any board affitiated with town government,we would have a better town. This man know his business and speaks the truth. If he is wrong he admits it,but how many times has he been wrong. Too bad he's not running for a council board position. OH WHAT A TOWN WE WOULD HAVE,free of hate and disention. The hate problem is getting out of hand with the existing board we do need a change. Feiner,Brown and Morgan this November. Hal how about going against Sheehan the next time arround ,you would win hands down.

Anonymous said...

The Son and Grandson of the Shadow:

We have been watching this blog carefully, and come 2009 Samis is the one!

He's independent, thoughtful, perceptive, articulate and he knows where the bodies are buried. Many of us are keeping a watchful I on Sir Francis the Last, and this talking mule will soon be sent out to pasture!

Progeny of the Shadow!

Anonymous said...

I second the vote for Samis.and the release of Sheehan ,the sooner the better.

Anonymous said...

"Even Edgemont wants development; they just want some kinds of development and not others."

But the desire for no additional residential development is based on the fact that the school system is becoming increasingly crowded. That's not some snobby preference; it's true.

School Systems Serving Greenburgh ~ Enrollment Changes Since 2003:

Valhalla +5.4
Edgemont +4.4%
Pocantico Hills +2.5%
Elmsford +2.1%
Dobbs Ferry +1.2%
Tarrytown +0.9%
Irvington -0.4%
Ardsley -0.9%
Hastings -2.3%
Greenburgh -8.7%


(Source: NYS DOE)

Anonymous said...

I read the statute. It is overbroad, vague. I'm surprised at Sheehan. Before he was elected to the council he was so careful. He isn't careful anymore about the laws he pushes to have approved. Any court will throw this law out.

Anonymous said...

The new format of laws should be called Sheehan's laws. He has tried to run Greenburgh government to suit his fancy since he was elected,may I say by telling lies. He made so many promises before which he has not kept one. Right now he wants the laws to pass asap. Feiner keeps saying he wants the laws to be put forth the right way or no way at all. Do you know why because the council 's head is on the chopping block. Executing the new laws will help the council get away with their wrong doings.. Sheehan keeps insisting meeting should be held a six but feiner keeps saying it should be held at a regular town meeting. So the fight goes on.By right the meeting should be held when all the interested residents can give their input.this would be at a regular town board meeting. We have had the existing ethics law on the books all this time a few months more will not kill anyone.

hal samis said...

Dear 5:27,

I don't understand. All sections of Greenburgh should grow at level school enrollment rates?

Edgemont's problem is apparently that they are a victim of their own success. But if comparisons are to be made, why not also smooth out all the school districts so that they have the same percentages of race and religion -- in other words busing. Then everyone can be equal. Some Edgemont residents would even out the lower enrollments somewhere else and, in so doing, they would reduce the burdensome school population in Edgemont.

Raise your hand and send your son/daughter off to school in one of the underpopulated school districts.

Or shut up.

hal samis said...

Now back to the new Ethics laws.
Let's do one or two a day so that it won't be so cumbersome (on me).

Remember the overall problem is that the Ethics Board is only an advisory body. Under the loose language, the Ethics Board may or may not choose to hear a case; may or may not decide there is a violation of the laws; may or may not recommend punishment and when all those "mays" come together in one package, they send it off to the Town Board which is not bound to follow any findings of the Ethics Board.

That is what is under the wrapping paper that the Town Council calls the tough new Ethics laws.

Let's start with this section.
THE SENTENCES IN CAPS DENOTE MY COMMENTS. The lower case words are the incorporated language of the old and new versions into what the Town Board adopted by vote.

"570-9. Penalties for offenses.
The Board of Ethics is empowered, if it finds in an opinion or report, that this Code of Ethics or Article 18 of the General Municipal Law has been violated, to make recommendations to the Town Board. These recommendations may include, but are not limited to, return of improperly solicited or received political contributions or gifts, and may include interest thereon; enforcement of any other penalties specified in A - D of this Section 570-9; referral to other governmental authorities; and any other procedural, referral or remedial action which the Board of Ethics deems appropriate under the circumstances."

*THE BOARD IS EMPOWERED MEANS THEY CAN BUT DO NOT HAVE TO
*IF THEY ACT, THEY ARE MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE TOWN BOARD
*THE ONLY SINGLED OUT OFFENSE IS POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS
*DESPITE THE "LANGUAGE" WHAT DOES 'REMEDIAL ACTION WHICH THE EB DEEMS APPROPRIATE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES' MEAN? DOES IT MEAN THE ACTION WAS APPROPRIATE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES OR DOES IT MEAN THAT WHAT THE EB IS DOING IS APPROPRIATE? ALSO WE SHALL HAVE TO GO ELSEWHERE TO DEFINE WHAT IS AN 'IMPROPERLY SOLICITED OR RECEIVED POLITICAL CONTRIBUTION'.

"A. Forfeiture of pay, suspension or removal. A violation of any of the provisions of this chapter shall constitute cause for forfeiture of pay, suspension, demotion or removal from office or employment pursuant to the procedures set forth in Article 75 of the Civil Service Law and Article 3 of the Public Officers Law."

SUCH NOTICE OF THESE VIOLATIONS (INCIDENTALLY THIS SECTION IS INTACT FROM EXISTING ETHICS LAWS) WOULD DEPEND ON THE ETHICS BOARD TO BRING THE MATTER TO THE ATTENTION OF THE TOWN BOARD, THE ETHICS BOARD DOES NOT HAVE ANY ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITY.

"B. Contracts voided. Any Contract knowingly entered into by or with the Town or any agency thereof in which there is an Interest prohibited by this chapter shall be null, void and wholly unenforceable at the option of the Town, which option shall be exercised, if at all, at a regular or special meeting of the Town Board upon notice to all contracting parties within six (6) months of the discovery of such Interest."

WHY WOULD THE TOWN (LIKELY THE TOWN BOARD) 'KNOWINGLY ENTERED INTO BY OR WITH THE TOWN' EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE? SO KNOWING THAT THE CONTRACT SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN SIGNED IN THE FIRST PLACE, THE TOWN MAY OR MAY NOT CHOOSE TO VOID THE CONTRACT -- AND ON WHAT BASIS?
IF IT IS A GOOD DEAL FOR THE TOWN IT WILL BE A GOOD CONTRACT, IF IT IS A BAD DEAL THE TOWN WILL VOID IT? IT APPEARS THAT ETHICS AS DEFINED BY THIS SECTION IS NOT THAT THE TOWN ABIDES BY ITS LAWS BUT INSTEAD ON WHETHER IT PROFITS FROM THE SITUATION. WE ALREADY KNOW THE TOWN COUNCIL IS A PROSTITUTE, NOW WE JUST NEED TO KNOW FOR WHAT PRICE THEY WILL DO THE DIRTY DEED.

"C. Fine. In addition to any of the foregoing penalties, any Public Officer, Employee or Agency Member who willfully and knowingly violates the foregoing provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of an offense punishable by a fine not in excess of two hundred and fifty dollars ($250)."

NOW ISN'T THIS REALLY HARSH AND SEE HOW STERN THE NEW TOUGH ETHICS LAWS ARE, $250. LET'S SAY THAT SOMEONE RECEIVED A $1000 ILLEGAL CONTRIBUTION, THE ETHICS BOARD 'MAY' RECOMMEND THAT THE OFFENDER BE ASKED TO PAY A $250 FINE OR A $10 FINE OR ANY AMOUNT BELOW $250 AS LONG AS IT DOES NOT EXCEED $250. "WILLFULLY AND KNOWINGLY VIOLATES' IS LANGUAGE THAT OPENS UP ANOTHER CAN OF WORMS, THE ETHICS BOARD MUST PROVE THAT THE OFFENDER WAS AWARE, SOMETHING THAT WOULD BE VERY DIFFICULT TO DO WITHOUT MAKING THE CLASS OF THOSE DENOTED RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYONE WHO IS DELEGATED TO HANDLE, SAY CONTRIBUTIONS. IF A CAMPAIGN TREASURER IS NOT A PUBLIC OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE OF THE TOWN OR AN AGENCY MEMBER OF THE TOWN, THEN THERE IS NO PROVISION TO MAKE THE CANDIDATE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS. AND ELSEWHERE (570-10) THERE IS LANGUAGE THAT SAYS THAT EVERYONE IS TO BE GIVEN A COPY OF THE ETHICS LAWS UPON EMPLOYMENT SO THIS WOULD BE AN ARGUMENT THAT THERE ARE NO SITUATIONS THAT ANYONE COULD CONFUSE, ALREADY BEING IN RECEIPT OF OUR ETHICS LAWS.

"D. Any Public Officer, Employee or Agency Member convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony which occurs during the time such individual is Public Officer, Employee or Agency Member of the Town shall be deemed to be in violation of this chapter."

OK SUPPOSE THEY ARE GUILTY. WHAT IN THIS CHAPTER (570) ARE THEY 'IN VIOLATION OF'? AND WHAT ARE MISDEMEANORS? LESS IMPORTANT THAN FELONIES, FOR SURE, BUT WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES? CAN A SPEEDING TICKET BE ONE, CAN JAYWALKING BE ONE, CAN BEING INTOXICATED BE ONE, CAN DRIVING WITHOUT A LICENSE OR REGISTRATION BE ONE? I DON'T KNOW BUT THEN I SUSPECT THAT NEITHER DOES THE TOWN COUNCIL. NOW LET ME SEE, IF I COMMIT ONE OF THESE CRIMES, I AM INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY BUT I CAN BE BONDED OUT SO I CAN RETURN TO MY TOWN JOB WHERE I CAN CONTINUE TO WORK UNTIL THE TRIAL ENDS AND I AM CONVICTED. WHAT IF I THEN APPEAL AND WIN? WILL THE ETHICS/TOWN BOARD REVERSE THEMSELVES?

This constitutes the entire penalty section governing penalties that can be recommended to the Town Board. My point is that the other 19 pages of the Ethics Laws, with all their definitions and listings of circumstances; they all end here in this section. And, of course if the Town Board is the final judge of all Ethics matters, let's assume that the vote would be
Feiner: Guilty as charged 4 to 1
Bass: Not Guilty as charged 4 to 1

Or how to let the flies guard the flypaper.

In "Alice's Restaurant" the 60's protest song by Arlo Guthrie, he cites how he beat a charge for littering despite the arresting officer taking "24 5x7 color glossy photos of the litter in the garbage dump" but the problem being that the judge reviewing the case was blind and couldn't view the photos. That is exactly what we have here: lots of pages of situational information, lots of definitions of terms, lots of listings of circumstances and when you get through all of it, it just comes down to one thing, the penalties which can be invoked. The Town Council in their haste to move these laws (maybe even to protect themselves as violators) has not contracted for severe, mandatory penalties. It would seem as though only the potential for embarrassment was the objective.

In later installments and hopefully this blog life permitting, I shall dissect the language of other sections to illustrate how poorly this document was constructed, more so given that the bulk of the wordage already existed from the original laws. Most of the problems exist where Mr. Sheehan has taken his pen to the document to show us all how smart he is. Aiding and abetting in this project were the three members of the Ethics Board (three members at the time, appointing two of themselves Chairman and Secretary) and a very small number of residents. That they are volunteers and "worked" long hours on this project is no excuse for the unready state in which it currently exists.

Perfect may never be obtainable but those who would accept this piece of garbage are fools. What was and is still ok is that some of the same residents are also responsible for the garbage that was presented as draft tree laws. These laws, worked on even longer than the Ethics laws, are still not ready for voting. The difference is that there is no hastening post summer Primary and General Election. Thus it was and is still not necessary to rush the tree laws through the mill, similarly not perfect, but trees are unique in that they are not voters.

No one should be looking to ethics laws to fell a mighty oak.

Anonymous said...

If it was a bad, or seriously flawed law, why did you abandon your principles and vote for it?
What kind of fools do you take us to be?
Either be a leader and say "No" or be a politician and flipflop for votes.

hal samis said...

Dear naif,
This is a surprise?
The first time you considered that those in elective office are politicans?


If you were the Town Supervisor and under continual attack by the Town Council,

If you were the Town Supervisor and had to look for support to Tim Lewis, the Town Attorney,

If you were the Town Supervisor and recognized that the laws were being written with you as the target,

If you were the Town Supervisor and were facing a hearing on ethics charges against you,

If you were the Town Supervisor and it was an election year and the opposition candidate is not only the Chairman of the local Democratic Party and the one who can dispense favors to other Democrats,

If you were the Town Supervisor and the entire Town Council was supporting your opponent,

Would you choose the door marked "Feiner's Afraid" of these laws and vote against them and have to spend most of your campaign explaining why.

Would you choose the door marked
"let the laws go down the toilet by themselves". After all, Feiner didn't write them; all he did was point out some of the flaws.

I'd say that his vote was what it was. The unneeded fourth vote while still on record about the imperfections. The Town Council won't even acknowledge the flaws.

Anonymous said...

Ethics for Sale

It is interesting how Suzanne Berger, a lawyer for many years, and the Chairperson of the Greenburgh Democratic Town Committee, seems to not understand the law when it comes to contributions. Of course, she talks of “ethics” and her main patron and supporter, one Francis Sheehan, a member of the Greenburgh Town Committee, has crafted his own version of the Town’s new loop-hole infested “ethic’s code,” but she doesn’t seem to practice what she preaches.

A review of her latest campaign filings shows contributions from “Friends of Judge Ecker,” “Judge Berliner for Supreme Court,” and “Colangelo for County Court.” This seems to be not only unethical, but also illegal under New York State law. One would think a lawyer would know better? Besides those gifts, why is she receiving gifts from the Yonkers Democratic Chairman’s Trust Fund and the Mount Vernon City Committee? Greenburgh certainly has been in conflict over roads, development, and large future projects with its neighbor Yonkers. Does this mean that a potential Supervisor Berger would have to recuse herself from negotiations with Yonkers? I also see that Tim Iodoni and the Oxman, Tulis law firm also made contributions. Why are these Judges, politicians and Democratic Committees taking sides in a primary?

Ms. Berger also said at the last Greenburgh Town Board open meeting that the 38% of her political gifts, which came from her law firm, Bryan, Cave were from people she knew for twenty years and were friends, but her previous law firm merged with Bryan, Cave in 2002! Could it be that these were rewards for her work in securing a six-figure contract through a no-bid process engineered by Town Board Member Sheehan? Was there a payoff to him also? These are significant “ethical” questions that must be addressed. Is this influence peddling at its highest level? I hope that this “insider” contract is removed at the next Greenburgh Town Board meeting.

Richard J. Garfunkel