The town of Niskayuna Ethics Board has asked the Town Board for permission to appoint alternate board members in the event they are needed to vote on complaints.
The issue concerning additional Ethics Board members surfaced after some residents raised concerns about some of the current Ethics Board members’ relationship with Town Board member Denise Murphy McGraw, who has an ethics grievance pending against her.
The complaint was filed June 4 by Jason Moskowitz after McGraw voted in favor of a resolution that allowed her daughter to work as a town employee. Moskowitz, who is running for a Town Board position this fall, had said the move wasn’t political.
McGraw said her vote was a mistake and that after she realized it, she asked the town clerk the following Friday to change her vote – which is prohibited.
McGraw also claimed the complaint follows four years of harassment and threats by the Moskowitz family.
In 2018 Moskowitz’s father, Lewis Moskowitz, filed an ethics complaint against McGraw for voting to continue a contract with Proctors Theater, which was a client of the lobbying firm where McGraw works. That complaint was ultimately dismissed.
McGraw has not provided any proof of harassment or threats. She said Lewis Moskowitz emailed inappropriate messages to a now-defunct campaign email account beginning Nov. 8, 2017.
“While they were disturbing and inappropriate and from my reading had an underlying threatening tone, I did not feel as though they justified the extreme step of filing a police report,” McGraw said in an emailed statement. “I did discuss the matter with Rabbi [Matthew] Cutler, [a current Ethics Board member], looking for insight and advice, at that time. I also told Mr. Moskowitz that I would be happy to meet with him to discuss his grievances and clear the air. He declined my offer.”
Moskowitz said he has only briefly communicated with McGraw through social media, but that was it. He said he did not want to meet with McGraw because the request had not come through the chain of command – the town supervisor. He said he has never threatened McGraw.
He said McGraw owes his family an apology for her false claims.
“She used her platform as a Town Board member to slander and make false accusations against a town resident,” Moskowitz said Wednesday.
Moskowitz also said he did not know his son was filing a complaint until he read it in the newspaper.
The current complaint will now go to the Ethics Board, which was created in December 2017 after it was discovered the town did not have one.
Cutler said he will recuse himself from this vote, the same as he did three years ago when Lewis Moskowitz’s complaint came before the board. Cutler is the family’s rabbi and a friend of Lewis Moskowitz.
Another Ethics Board member, Tracy Cazer, did not respond to comment on whether she will recuse herself as well.
In the same resolution in which the board approved the job for McGraw’s daughter, they also approved lifeguard jobs for Cazer’s two children.
Past concerns were also raised regarding McGraw’s relationship with Ethics Board member Jill LaFlamme as well. LaFlamme did not respond to a request for comment.
Cutler said it was unlikely any of the board members would respond because they are subject to protecting the identities of the person who filed the grievance and the person against whom the grievance was filed.
McGraw said she does not socialize often with any of the Ethics Board members but does “encounter some of them from time to time at events such as Eagle Scout project planning, town events and at public venues such as restaurants and local stores.”
She said she worked with Cutler on the Holocaust Memorial and he was an adviser to her when she started the Capital Region Antiracism Initiative. Cazer and McGraw both served on the parent committee for the high school senior gala and had kids in the local swimming programs, McGraw said. She said she and LaFlamme both managed the town’s swimming team in past years because they had kids on the team. She indicated that she did not really know the other two board members – Vince Valenza or Paul Santilli.
However, a Times Union article from December 2018 said McGraw had posted in August 2018 a photo of her and LaFlamme out to dinner and a movie following their kids leaving for college.
Cutler said an Ethics Board meeting has been scheduled but could not recall when it is. The board meets quarterly. However, no meeting is listed on the town’s website.
If someone does violate the town code, four disciplinary actions can be taken:
- The person could face a warning, reprimand, suspension or removal from office or employment and subjection to any other sanction that has been authorized under the law or a collective bargaining agreement.
- A civil fine of up to $500 for each violation.
- The person could be liable for damages to the town.
- Any person could be charged with a misdemeanor and upon conviction, the town officer or employee would forfeit their position.