SCHENECTADY — City Councilman Damonni Farley was involved as both a consultant and a full-time employee for the Schenectady City School District for an extent of time, a financial arrangement often frowned upon by government ethics advocates.
From 2015 to 2021, Farley and his limited liability company Common Thread Consulting in total received at least $581,418 from the district, according to records recently released by local Republican committee officials. The now-community outreach specialist’s payments stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The superintendent [Anibal Soler] wasn’t here when this happened, so when he came here he was reviewing contracts and he didn’t renew the contract,” said SCSD spokesperson Karen Corona. She said that Farley’s actions were “not illegal.”
The Schenectady GOP — foes of the progressive Democratic city lawmaker — on Tuesday filed a complaint with the New York State Board of Education and called for Farley to resign on the grounds of “double-dipping.” His actions violate public officers law, the group alleges.
“Here’s the thing: Damonni Farley wants to be in the public square,” Schenectady GOP Vice Chairman Tom Kennedy said. “He doesn’t feel like he should be held accountable for anything.”
Farley, a Black lawmaker, claimed that Schenectady GOP’s recent dossier is part of a harassment campaign, which includes hate mail and stalking. City Republicans have dismissed Farley’s allegations as false “hateful rhetoric” and recently contacted local officials in hopes they would take action against him.
“If they’re going to talk about the service that we provided, I hope that they pulled the data and saw how effective it was for somebody who quote-on-quote ‘double dipped,’” Farley said. “And I was really kicking [expletive], man, to be able to do both, wasn’t I?”
Farley was first contracted with the district in the mid-2010s before landing a position as a family engagement facilitator at the district’s Lincoln Elementary School and, later, as a community outreach specialist for the district.
Both contractual and full-time duties have involved engaging with parents, showing local cultural sensitivity, working with community leaders and strengthening district relations through events. GOP officials contend that Farley was effectively being paid twice for doing the same job.
Calling both positions “very different,” Farley contended that cultural brokers focus on a “select demographic and help this district not pathologize young people,” as well as work out disputes with parents. Duties in the other position include supervising the district’s volunteer program, strategic planning tasks and other duties as assigned by higher-ups.
Common Thread Consulting received an annual high of $125,760 and a low of $35,000 within a six-year-period. Farley said that the money was distributed among other “cultural brokers” involved within the organization, albeit the number is unclear.
In his official full-time capacity with the district, Farley was paid salaries of $63,463 in 2021, $63,288 in 2020, $62,077 in 2019, $57,155 in 2018, $53,092 in 2017 and $15,875 in 2016, according to the Empire Center’s See Through NY database.
Ken Girardin, a local government policy expert at the Empire Center, labeled working full-time and under contract with the same employer an “extremely fine line to walk.”
“The idea that you’d have the same person paid both ways makes it unlikely that your approach is getting taxpayers the best value,” said Girardin. “On the employee side, it raises the question of whether that person was properly attributing their time to a contract or doing private work on taxpayer time.”
Russ Haven, general counsel for the New York Public Interest Research Group — an organization that looks at a number of policy issues across the state — said in an email that local ethics officials should step in during incidents of possible double-dipping.
“Generally speaking, when public officials engage in activities that might create an appearance of conflict of interest or raise ethics questions, we recommend they obtain an ethics opinion from the relevant agency available to provide guidance before engaging in the activities that may create a conflict with their obligations to the public,” said Haven.
Farley said he never received any advisory opinion from any members of the administration apropos to contractual ethics and that his actions didn’t violate any district policies.
Much of the school district’s administrative team has flipped since the district first partnered with Farley and Common Thread Consulting years ago. Larry Spring resigned in March 2020 amid scathing allegations of sexual harassment of female underlings. Lynne Rutnik, Carlos M. Cotto, Jr., Shaun Mason, Andrea Tote-Freeman and Joseph R. DiCaprio all filled administration roles in 2021.
The school choose to discontinue a number of contracts and enacted a new procurement policy for purchasing decisions, requiring pre-approval from the Board of Education shortly into Soler’s tenure as the district superintendent, who took office in the summer of 2021, according to school officials.
Soler met with Farley early on to discuss his new intentions.
“Upon my arrival in July 2021 I reviewed many contracts and Common Thread Consulting, LLC along with others were not renewed given the district’s change in leadership and focus,” Soler wrote in an email.
SCSD Board of Education President Bernice Rivera declined to comment.
Beyond his work with the school district, Farley has protested police brutality and racism alongside Schenectady-based All of Us advocacy group. He has also been seated on the Schenectady County Community College’s Board of Trustees since 2020.
Farley first ran for council in 2017, but was removed from the Democratic ballot after his petitions were nullified in court. He won a seat in the council chamber with 2,959 votes in 2021 despite not receiving an official party endorsement during the primary cycle.
Mayor Gary McCarthy declined to weigh in on the ethics of Farley’s consulting role on the basis that the Daily Gazette in an earlier email wrote that the school district identified the councilman’s conduct as “not illegal.”
“Again, I’m not going to comment on that because I’m not agreeing with your original assumption,” McCarthy said.
Schenectady GOP Chair Nelligan believes Farley should’ve been more open about his past before entering the political fray and condemns Democrats for not taking swift action against him.
“When my party faltered in this, I acknowledged it and fixed it immediately,” said Nelligan, in a reference to Jeff Moore, a Schenectady GOP-endorsed candidate who was dropped from the group’s ticket earlier this month after Daily Gazette reporting found a number of Moore’s Facebook posts espousing intricate conspiracy theories and incendiary comments. “Furthermore, I am putting together a comprehensive Ethics Plan to implement as Mayor that will hold officials accountable and restore public faith in government.”
Schenectady Democratic Party Chairman Tom Bellick hasn’t responded to a request for comment for this story.
Farley believes that the group is trying to redirect the attention away from the Moore situation.
“If they spent a fraction of the time vetting their own candidates, as they did harassing me, they would save themselves the embarrassment of changing their slate days after announcing it,” Farley wrote in a separate statement.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3749 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.
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Farley time folks!
Maybe this is totally fine, but the optics are really bad – being on the payroll as an employee to do a job and your company also being paid to do the same job.