Niskayuna Ethics Board: Former town board member found in violation of code, no repercussions


NISKAYUNA – Ten months after an ethics complaint was filed against then-Niskayuna town board member Denise Murphy McGraw, the town’s Ethics Board has found she did violate the town’s Code of Ethics. 

In June 2021 Jason Moskowitz, who is now a town board member, filed an ethics complaint against McGraw after she voted on a resolution that allowed her daughter to be hired as a town pool employee. 

According to the determination by the town’s Ethics Board, a total of three similar complaints were submitted regarding McGraw’s vote. Hamayun “Joey” Faizy confirmed Monday he filed one of the other complaints. Faizy filed the complaint at the time he was was running for the town supervisor, a race he eventually lost. He said Monday he had not received notice from the board regarding his complaint. The other complainant is unknown. 

The board’s decision states that McGraw’s vote on the resolution to hire her daughter was a “technical violation of the Code of Ethics.” 

McGraw has said she voted by mistake and tried emailing the town clerk to have her vote changed. 

The board also determined that there would be no repercussions against McGraw because there was no evidence that McGraw tried to “exert any influence on the town board’s decision-making or vote,” did not vote on a similar resolution to hire her daughter in 2020 and is not on the board anymore. 

The decision was signed by ethics board members John Sharkey, Christopher Rust and Paul Santilli. Board alternate Heather Odom also signed the decision. Board members Tracy Cazer and Jill LaFlamme didn’t review the matter, according to the documents. Concerns regarding Cazer and LaFlamme’s relationship to McGraw had been raised in the past and the two had previously recused themselves from the matter.

Moskowitz said he is pleased that the board reached the decision it did, but disappointed that there would be no disciplinary action. 

Elected officials are, and rightly should be, held to the highest standards of conduct,” he said in an emailed statement. “It’s time to turn the page, and as I have since day one, I will continue to focus on working in the best interest of our residents.”

McGraw’s attorney is standing firm that there was no violation. 

“No ethical violation took place as there is no law, regulation or policy in the Town of Niskayuna that expressly precludes board members from voting on the employment of family members unlike in many other municipalities,” said Matthew Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLCs, a law firm in Albany that is also representing McGraw’s daughter in a suit against Twitter regarding an anonymous account. 

Tully also claims that New York State law allows for actions such as the one McGraw took when she voted. 

The town’s Code of Ethics states that a Town Board member or employee cannot use their position to help another town officer, employee, outside employer, outside employees, member of their household, customer or client, relative or “any firm, corporation, association, partnership or other organization in which the town officer or employee or a relative serves as an officer or director.” 

“A town officer or employee is required to recuse themselves from acting on [sic] a manner which may financially benefit a member of their household and/or relative,” states the decision of the Ethics Board.

Tully also said the board did not provide McGraw with an opportunity to discuss the complaint prior to making a decision. 

“My client requested and was denied a hearing before the Ethics Board, which the Ethics Board was required to conduct under Town Code before rendering this recommendation,” he said in his emailed statement. “Additionally, this recommendation was released to the press and not to me or my client, an unacceptable act by the Ethics Board. Nonetheless, my client wants to put this issue behind her and allow the Ethics Board to focus on actual serious and pressing matters impacting the town, such as leaks from executive sessions of town board meetings that can cause real reputational harm, or worse.” 

The ethics board stated in its letter to Moskowitz about its findings that they had invited McGraw to discuss the complaint on March 23 but she did not attend and did not provide any documents. The letter also notes that the board was served with a motion to dismiss the complaints. 

The Ethics Board did not provide The Gazette with the decision on the complaint. 

Tully now wants the Ethics Board to investigate how the information got out. 

“For an ethics committee to be effective, the complaints must be treated confidentially – in fact this is the law in Niskayuna,” he said. “The public weaponizing of the ethical process in the Town of Niskayuna has harmed my client without any lawful basis, and should be a lesson to the Ethics Board, Town Board, and the community. I am calling on the Town Ethics Board to investigate how confidential information about my client and others has potentially been unlawfully disclosed in violation of Niskayuna Town Code 17-4(F). I am also calling on the Town Board to review the Town Ethical Code to ensure the due process violations and the breaches of confidentiality in this matter are never repeated because the Ethical Code is updated/revised.”

Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at SB_DailyGazette. 

Categories: News, Your Niskayuna

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