A Cobleskill trustee is allegedly violating state law by owning property involved in a federal assistance program the Village Board oversees, according to a report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office.
The village’s trustees and mayor are responsible for administering a Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program that provides eligible residents with aid to secure housing in the private market. The audit by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office, which was conducted between January 2010 and February 2012, concluded the village administered the program properly, but that an unnamed trustee had a “prohibited interest” by owning at least one rental unit that receives federally subsidized rent payments.
Village officials approve where the federal assistance can be spent and in this case means an official is approving expenditures for their own property. This is a violation of the state’s General Municipal Law’s limit on the ability of municipal officers to enter into contracts in which their personal interests and public powers are connected.
In a response to the comptroller’s office on June 26, Village Mayor Mark Galasso took umbrage with the alleged law violation. He argued that the audit was “unnecessarily critical” and defended the unnamed trustee because of unique “circumstances.”
“The housing contract between the village and the [trustee] existed for years prior to such [trustee] being elected to the Board of Trustees,” Galasso wrote.
The comptroller’s office rejected this explanation because the assistance contract was renewed after the trustee joined the board.
Galasso also defended the conflict of interest on the basis that it represented such a small percentage of the actual assistance dolled out. According to the comptroller’s office, the village oversaw $877,247 in rent subsidies in 2010, with the trustee receiving $4,722 in rent in 2011.
Responding to the village’s defense, the comptroller’s office rejected a claim that the trustee does “more justifiable good” than the “perceived negative effect” of the conflict of interest. The comptroller’s office said that state law doesn’t make any exceptions like that.
A phone call to Galasso’s cellphone was not immediately returned on Saturday.
In order to rectify the law violation, Galasso is asking that the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors take over administering the housing program effective Jan. 1, 2013.