The Malta Town Board on Monday sent a report finding unethical conduct by Town Clerk Flo Sickels back to the town Ethics Committee, citing procedural flaws in the report.
Board members said their action doesn’t pass judgment on the report, but town Tax Receiver Lynda Bablin, who made the initial complaint against Sickels, accused the board of a “cover-up.”
“To kick this back [to the Ethics Committee] because of a technicality is ludicrous,” Bablin said. “It is time for an investigation by the state.”
The Oct. 28 report by the Ethics Committee found that Sickels — a 22-year incumbent who was just re-elected to another two-year term — pressured subordinates to support her last summer, and at least once required a deputy town clerk working on town time to type minutes for the Malta Republican Committee, of which Sickels is secretary.
Sickels denied the allegations during the investigation and has retained an attorney, but hasn’t commented publicly since the report was released. She was not at Monday’s meeting.
In its resolution, the Town Board said the Ethics Committee failed to follow some procedures set out in the town ethics code, including requiring a sworn statement from Bablin. Bablin’s Sept. 11 written complaint was signed by her, but not sworn under penalty of perjury, as the code requires.
The resolution also said the committee should use a standard of “clear and convincing evidence” as required by the code. The committee’s report didn’t make clear what evidence standard it used, though there is a reference to the “weight of the evidence” supporting the allegations.
The Town Board approved the measure sending the report back 3-1 Monday evening. Councilman Peter Klotz voted against it, saying a requirement that Sickels receive a copy of the complaint goes beyond what the code requires. The fifth board member, Councilwoman Tara Thomas, is Sickels’ daughter and has recused herself.
Councilman John Hartzell said it’s important that due process be followed, and the referral isn’t an effort at cover-up, as Bablin charged. “The allegation that the Town Board would do anything other than follow prescribed procedures is baseless,” he said. “I won’t predetermine what the result will be.”
When it conducted its investigation in mid-October, the Ethics Committee didn’t request legal counsel. After the report came out, the committee was authorized to hire attorney Christine Carsky of Saratoga Springs.
Carsky, who attended Monday’s meeting, noted that the committee’s report was drafted without help from an attorney. She said Bablin’s written complaint amounted to a sworn statement, and that the committee used a proper evidence standard, even if not the correct wording for it.
Carsky couldn’t say what the Ethics Committee would do next. Two committee members who attended Monday’s meeting, Rick Weiss and David Stiles, said the entire committee would need to discuss it.
Bablin said that during the investigation, the committee advised her that her statements were made under penalty of perjury, and that should be sufficient to meet the ethics code’s requirement.
“The procedures were followed to a T,” she told the board. “You’re trying retroactively to change the process.”