Monday, July 23, 2007

SHOULD THE ETHICS LAW HAVE A GAG ORDER AGAINST DISCLOSURE OF INFO?

The proposed ethics law suggested by Town Council members could violate the first amendment of the United States Constitution, according to lawyers, good government groups (see todays Journal News article: www.lohud.com).
Town officials will be charged with ethics violations for publicly distributing any information about negotiations for real estate, services and contracts. The punishment could be removal from office.
Town officials could also be accused of unethical behavior if they release information "to which the public may be denied access" under the Freedom of Information Law, unless authorized by the Town Board.
A quote from Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government in todays Journal News. "That doesn't make any sense. What if someone wants to tell the world where he or she stands on a policy issue."
A quote from Common Cause: The abuse of information section would provide less transparency not more. "It seems set up to protect the governing body, rather than citizens of Greenburgh."
Les Steinman, director of Pace's Michaelian Institute for Public Policy and Management said that "the abuse of information" section has no language protecting town officials who disclose information about government waste, inefficiency, corruption, criminal activity or conflicts of interest."

Town Council members were recently accused by Richard Troy (see blog about One Dromore Road) for participating in an illegal meeting with Robert Bernstein. The council members and Bernstein were conspiring to give Bernstein a deed to the property for an Edgemont Village Hall if Edgemont secedes (an action Edgemont voters hadn't approved). If one of the participating members of the council recognized that the meeting was inappropriate and said something after the fact, would he/she be guilty of a violation of the new ethics laws?

The proposed law, as written will have a chilling effect on free speech.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

We the residents of Greenburgh must know what is going on at all times. The incident that took place with the board members and two citizens from Edgemont should not have happened especially behind closed doors. With the ethics law reading the way it is fabricated does nothing to the board members as far as punishment goes. I'm happy to see that men and women in authority,have come forth to say in plain english that it stinks.We need someone with knowledge of good management and corporate law,to set down a good set of laws. The people in charge at the moment do not qualify to take this task on. Check out the others that applied for a position on the ethics board,maybe you made a mistake in not choosing the most qualified. One who has an open mind who will protect our rights according to the constitution.

Anonymous said...

what is good for one should be good for all. The way the ethics laws read the only one that will be punished is the supervisor . The board members that attended that land meeting should be punished to the fullest. As someone said but the deal was not completed, what different does it make they were still involved in a criminal acton. The way the ethics law reads the board will only be spoken to and maybe pay a fine. Come on now is this democracy.

Jim Lasser said...

Mr. Feiner -

As a lawyer, even a non-practicing one, you should know better than to repeat hearsay as fact. You do not, nor can you in any lawful manner, KNOW that there was any kind of conspiracy involving anyone.

You were very anxious to have the full stories of various accusations made against you over the years. You and your supporters were quick (and correct) to ask that judgements be withheld until the full story could be told. You wanted due process (to which you were certainly entitled). Why not extend the SAME courtesy to your colleagues and the private citizens involved in this matter? You could lead by example and model appropriate behavior - it might do wonders for your reputation.

You also know full well that Edgemont is not contemplating secession - there were community-wide discussions of the pros and cons of becoming an incorporated village - EXACTLY like any one of the six existing villages.

It may be your blog - but you still have an obligation to tell the truth.

Anonymous said...

I'm really disappointed, Mr. Feiner, in the second to last paragraph of your posting. No one actually knows if that is true or not*, but it'll result in totally distracting from the ethics law conversation. I think you should edit your original post.

* Yes, we all assume it is true, but it's not been proven.

Anonymous said...

The allegations in the Troy affidavit have not been proven in court, but it is a sworn statement and Mr. Troy is an attorney, so he knows that perjury is serious.

We wait for the Town Council members to deny the allegations. So far they haven't denied them. They hide behind the cop-out idea that they may be sued. If that is going to happen then it is going to happen, and if they can swear that the allegations are not true it won't hurt their defense. The reason for not making a sworn denial is that they probably cannot deny the allegations without commiting perjury.

I respect Mr. Lasser but here he is doing what the Town Council is doing, attacking the messenger because they can't attack the message.

Jim Lasser said...

Begging Anonymous at 4:26's pardon - I'm not attacking anyone. I've suggested we wait and let legal due process take its course. There is no messenger here - there are political factions maneuvering for relative advantage. Remember, the developer has filed a Notice of Claim which cites the Supervisor as well as the Town Board, and as I understand it, the ZBA as well. Prudence (and concern for his constituents) would suggest that the Supervisor, as a respondent in the law suit, choose a course of action which protects the Town as a whole - not a course of action which appears to aid the developer in pressing his claim.

Anonymous said...

Jim secession has been the topic in Edgemont for many years. All of a sudden things have changed .The message has been mentioned at every town meeting by someone from Edgemont. Look ,the people want Feiners head on a platter. Now with the town board on Edgemonts' side things are coming to an awful mess. We had good government , No one was at each others throat as they are today. The citizens of Greenburgh never spoke up with so much hate for your area as they do today. Where does it come from. Listening to the demands made at town hall,zoning and planning board meetings, The people in other areas are fed up.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Mr. Lasser, the cat is out of the bag. If there will be legal action it is because Bass and Sheehan have tried to screw the developer and he won't take it any more.

It is disingenuous (others may use harsher words) to lecture to the Supervisor as you did. The Town Council, mainly Francis Sheehan and Steve Bass ,has gone on a permanent attack on him -- an attack which you have joined --and it is a little too sanctimonious for you to lecture the Supervisor about being nice in his responses.

Feiner is not very good, but he is damn sight better than his enemies, Bass, Sheehan, Bernes, Juettner and Bernstein.

hal samis said...

Sorry, Jim

This is no "apples to apples" situation here.

There is no State Comoptroller interested.

There is no concerted Town Board action to move this matter forward.
To the opposite, the Town Attorney, Tim Lewis has issued a gag order just in case the matter should be litigated. However, there are still some things that could be answered without weakening a Town defense. And when it serves the Town Council to speak, their forum is in The Scarsdale Inquirer not the Town Board meeting which reaches a larger Greenburgh audience than the newspaper.

The newspaper reaches Edgemont homes which will likely view the actions of the Town Council with favor because their participation was to remove a threat to Edgemont taxes. You can fool some of the people all the time in The Scarsdale Inquirer but you suggest that the rest of the Town wait until somehow, sometime, somewhere this will all be resolved.

Well Jim, the Romeo & Juliet/West Side Story story, this version set alongside Central Avenue just won't wait and both sides are playing for the attention of the media. That Feiner's speculations are politically motivated is true but at the same time, his opponents plays are quarterbacked by your good friend, no stranger to going on the offense.

This is an election year and hotly contested. By everyone except the challenger.

If the Developer decides to take l'affaire S&R upward, it will be only after the Zoning Board has denied his appeal. The Zoning Board meets monthly and the next we hear from them it will be in a month and if it is still "kicking" around there, it will be yet another month.

Then the Developer has to file and it has to be heard. Then, the Town Board members will be deposed. All this will occur AFTER the Primary and AFTER the November election.

None of the earlier charges regarding Feiner have followed the innocent until proven guilty scenario; that includes the recent rush to get the new Ethics laws passed, so why should it be any different when Feiner gets behind the wheel?

So far, what we have is a playing field with the Developer having delivered a sworn statement and it is being questioned by those who have not made any sworn statements of their own. Only vague and suggestive challenges that are free of any need to conform to the truth. That is why the Town Council sworn statements will appear very late in the game, if at all.

And, Jim when and if the matter is in the open and being looked at under the old ethics laws and not under the mislabeled "tougher" ethics laws (the incident(s) occurred prior to the new laws), who will judge the four parties being charged with ethics law violations?

Charged: Bass, Barnes, Juettner and Sheehan.

Judges: Bass, Barnes, Juettner and Sheehan.

Care to guess the outcome?

feiner must be leased said...

what is scary is feiner deciding on his own that he is not bound by the rules limiting what can be disclosed under the freedom of information law. feiner will do or say anything to remain in power. his record of seeking to intimidate his critics is well known

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Paul we have now found out about illegal meetings, unelected citizens taking control of our Towns' political agenda and the lengths that our Town Council will go to screw Paul. BRAVO PAUL! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Feiner does not think that he is beyond the law. He just wants to make sure that it is not only targetting him. What Sheehan wants to pass does nothing to the rest of the board if they are caught with their pants down. Feiner wants laws that will be enforced for all.Is he wrong in demanding this,I doubt it. If the ethics board cannot come up with the best group of guide lines he must get the right people to do the job.

Anonymous said...

feiner never intimidates anyone. That's why we have this blog- he encourages citizen input and participation. Please provide examples of intimidation. no character assassination without facts.

example #1 said...

how about when he had mr gooljar (who was employed by feiner) send a letter to all of bob bernstein's law partners?

example 2 said...

how about when feiner told mr samis he would videotape his appearance at town board meetings and send it to his employer?

Anonymous said...

Whether one has a title of doctor or mister what difference does it make.,so long as the children receive the best education that money can buy.We thank him for taking on this position.We are sure that he is the one to put education on the right path.

hal samis said...

Dear example 2,

Agreed that Feiner does not always think things through before he reacts and those that recognize this have learned to distinguish between thoughts and action.

What might be more intuitive is asking why did Samis switch sides especially in light of the above.

And the reason has little to do with Feiner NOT sending a videotape.

Similarly, the reason has little to do with anonymous bloggers who continue to send untrue messages to Feiner's employers, the Public, which reads these blog postings.

At least when Feiner shoots off his mouth, we know it is Feiner.
Cowards hide behind anonymous and from their keyboards spring not only their fondest remembrances but also a fictional world of events which never happened.

Anonymous said...

"At least when Feiner shoots off his mouth, we know it is Feiner." That's not always true on this blog. Sometimes he responds pretending to be an old lady; it's sort of funny. But in general, yes, he typically posts with his name (often without thinking beyond the next day, but that's another matter).

Anonymous said...

I hate to tell you it's not Feiner pretending to be an old lady.That's me and I am an old lady. Sorry.