GLENVILLE — A proposed change to the town ethics law that would restrict town employees from holding jobs with other governments if it could create a conflict of interest has sparked intense debate between the Republicans and Democrats on the Town Board.
The board’s two Democrats see the proposal as an effort to restrict their future town election candidates, and perhaps even target Councilman Michael Godlewski, a Democrat who will be up for re-election in 2021, and who is a staff attorney in the Schenectady County Attorney’s Office.
“The town of Glenville’s ethics law needs updating, but this isn’t the way to go about it,” Godlewski said on Thursday. “The Republicans are using this as a political sword, and it’s highly inappropriate.”
The Town Board on Wednesday voted to set a public hearing on the proposed ethics law amendment for the Oct. 7 Town Board meeting, but Godlewski sought to make a series of amendments to the law, all of which were rejected by the three-member Republican majority following some heated debate.
“Godlewski is making it political,” Republican Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle responded on Thursday. “He is injecting politics into ethics.”
The proposed change to the town’s decade-old ethics law would prohibit town employees, including elected officials, from holding a job with a municipality “that does business” with the town of Glenville if it would create a conflict of interest.
The proposed amendment would state: “No municipal officer or employee shall: Simultaneously with his or her Town employment, hold another public sector office or position or employment which regularly does business with the Town or which is deemed incompatible with his or her town office or employment.”
The proposed change has political roots.
Republicans first raised the issue of outside municipal employment during the 2019 town election, when one of the Democratic candidates for Town Board was Andrew Kohout, the superintendent of public works for the village of Scotia. Republicans argued there was an inherent conflict in a village employee working in a policy-making position for the town, since the village and town share some infrastructure and taxing districts. Kohout lost the election, but Republicans have hung onto the issue.
“That exposed a blind spot in our town ethics law,” Koetzle said. He said the ethics law prohibits financial conflicts, but doesn’t address the kind of conflict that could arise when someone works for two different municipalities — something he said some other town ethics law do.
Godlewski thinks the change is really about the 2021 town election, when two Town Board seats, including his own, will be up for election.
“My gut feeling is that this is intended to keep Andrew Kohout from running, and to try to keep me from running, but it would have wide implications far beyond that,” Godlewski said.
On Wednesday, it took more than a half-hour of cross-talk-filled and sometimes angry debate, but the board voted unanimously to set a public hearing on the proposed amendment for the next Town Board meeting, which will be Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.
“I think it would be detrimental to vote against a public hearing, but I can tell you right now, the law as currently written, does not have my support,” Godlewski said.
The board rejected in a party-line 3-2 vote an amendment proposed by Godlewski that would have added serving on or leading a town or county political committee to the list of activities prohibited for town employees. Koetzle is chairman of the Schenectady County Republican Committee.
“His job going into 2021 is to find a way to win back the [Town Board] seats currently held by Mr. [Michael] Aragosa and myself,” Godlewski said.
Koetzle and Councilwoman Gina Wierzbowski both voted against the amendment on procedural grounds, but said they were open to discussing whether holding political party leadership should be prohibited for town employees. “I am not married to any volunteer position I hold outside my town duties,” Koetzle said.
Godlewski said he hopes for a strong turnout at the public hearing, though in the end he doubts it will make a difference if the public opposes it. “The law is going to pass 3-2. To me, it’s a foregone conclusion, but I think it’s important that the Republican board members hear from a large segment of the public,” he said.
If the law were changed, Koetzle said, it wouldn’t prevent anyone from running for office, but it would give the Town Board a framework for determining whether an employment conflict might exist.
Koetzle said he believes the matter should be decided quickly for the sake of anyone who is considering running for town office in 2021, when the two Town Board seats held by Democrats — those of Godlewski and Aragosa — are up for election. Both won their seats in 2017, breaking a streak in which Republicans had controlled all the Town Board seats for a number of years.
“We really feel it is important to be transparent and have this in place soon, so it’s in place and with someone who is coming forward for a [political] endorsement knowing about it,” Koetzle said.