Saratoga County

Malta ethics panel cites one violation

The town Ethics Committee has found substance to one of three ethics violation charges made late las

The town Ethics Committee has found substance to one of three ethics violation charges made late last year against Town Supervisor Paul J. Sausville.

The committee concluded an ethics violation occurred last summer when Sausville asked a consultant to study the cost of adding a swimming pool to the Malta Community Center, after the Town Board majority had rejected that idea.

“Each board member, including the supervisor, has one vote, and an individual board member may not unilaterally act on behalf of the Town Board,” the committee stated in its opinion, citing New York State Town Law.

The committee also faulted some of Sausville’s accusers — including fellow board members — and recommended the entire board attend workshops on improving governing skills.

The Town Board voted Monday night not to accept the two reports the committee issued, but to nevertheless pursue recommendations that the town ethics law and employee manual be revised to remove ambiguities.

“I don’t think the ethics committee grasped the problem here, which is that our supervisor feels he can do whatever he wants,” said Councilwoman Sue Nolen, who had signed one of the complaints against Sausville.

The committee is a group of seven citizens from outside town government appointed by the board in February. It cleared Sausville of a charge that he violated town ethics by citing the office he holds in a political endorsement letter to the editor prior to last fall’s town election. But it said the town employee manual should be changed to clarify whether limits on political activity by town employees also apply to town elected officials.

Separately, the committee concluded Sausville expressing his views on downtown development to a consultant last October also was not an ethics violation.

All the board members are Republicans, though they were split by their support of candidates in last fall’s election.

The committee found that at least some of the complaints against Sausville were “politically motivated.”

After the findings were released Monday, Sausville said the board should move on.

“It is time to move beyond these political distractions that misdirect us from the major issues facing our town,” Sausville said.

In the one finding against Sausville, the committee concluded he shouldn’t have asked Community Center architects Bargemann Hendrie & Archetype to determine the cost of adding a swimming pool, because the idea had previously been rejected.

Firm principal Joel Bargemann said in August that the work would cost an additional $10,000. The work was done, the town was billed, but the bill was later withdrawn because the board hadn’t approved the work.

The committee found the allegation that Sausville renegotiated a contract without approval false, but said he actions contradicted an earlier resolution setting forth what Bargemann’s firm would do.

“His actions may have placed staff and consultants in positions that could lead to their and others’ suspicion that the supervisor might be engaged in a course of conduct which was in violation of his trust, since the board had previously acted in a way which clearly signaled its decision not to pursue a pool,” the committee found.

Sausville continued to defend his actions, saying citizens had asked about the cost of a pool at public meetings, and he personally hadn’t ruled it out.

“It is my position that when we sponsor meetings to seek citizen input, all citizen questions are fair questions and the responsible thing for the town to do is provide good answers,” Sausville said.

The pool idea was subsequently discussed by the board and rejected in favor of a library. Town voters approved borrowing for the Community Center expansion in December, and work is expected to begin shortly.

Ann Klotz, one of the residents who signed the complaint about Sausville’s letter to the editor, said Sausville issued a memo reminding town employees not to invoke their official positions when campaigning in early September, shortly before he wrote his endorsement letter.

“I would say a common policy for everyone is appropriate,” she said.

While not accepting the Ethics Committee findings, the board agreed to consider clarifying the employee manual, and also consider setting up an independent procedure for future referrals to the committee.

Councilman Peter Klotz, the husband of Ann Klotz and one of those elected last fall, said he believes the board’s level of cooperation has improved recently, and the board members don’t need to follow the suggestion that members work on building their team skills.

Sausville stepped down and sat in the audience during the board discussion, with Deputy Supervisor Glenn Rockwood running the meeting.

The ethics investigation, which included hiring a lawyer for the committee, cost about $8,000.

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