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What you need to know for 08/20/2017

Malta Town Board considers measure critical of town clerk in ethics case

Malta Town Board considers measure critical of town clerk in ethics case

The Town Board this evening will consider adopting a “letter of counsel” criticizing Malta Town Cler

The Town Board this evening will consider adopting a “letter of counsel” criticizing Malta Town Clerk Flo Sickels’ use of town employees to help her in last year’s re-election campaign.

A special meeting has been called for 6:30 p.m., at which adoption of the letter to be sent to Sickels will be considered.

The meeting follows a report by the town Ethics Committee earlier this month that reaffirmed its previous finding that the longtime town clerk had a deputy clerk in her office do political work during town business hours. She is accused of pressuring her employees to campaign for her.

“The Malta Ethics Committee has found by clear and convincing evidence that these actions occurred, and has found they constituted violations of the Malta Town Code,” according to a draft of the letter prepared by Town Attorney Tom Peterson.

The letter goes on to express “disapproval of the violations” and recommend that Sickels attend in-person ethics training.

The town held an employee ethics training on a Saturday in early March, while the investigation was under way, but Sickels did not attend.

Town Supervisor Paul Sausville said the board decided to hold a special meeting this evening — the same night when members normally meet for an informal agenda session — because it will be the first time the board would be together since the ethics report was issued.

“We wanted to address it at the first available opportunity,” he said Friday. The agenda meeting will follow the special meeting.

Tonight’s anticipated action is the latest development in an ethics dispute that has been going on since October.

The revised report filed by the Ethics Committee on April 14 repeats the charges it leveled against Sickels just before last November’s election. The earlier report recommended that Sickels be reprimanded, whereas the new report is softened to recommend a “letter of counsel.”

On Nov. 18, the Town Board sent the first report back to the committee, saying its evidence-gathering hadn’t followed appropriate evidence standards or some of the procedures set up in the town ethics code.

The new report, done with the assistance of outside legal counsel, finds the allegations about Sickels’ political use of her office remain valid, and the evidence-gathering this time followed appropriate legal standards.

The initial investigation began in October, after the Ethics Committee received a written complaint about Sickels’ conduct from Lynda Bablin, the town tax collector.

Both the first report and the new one found that Sickels had a deputy clerk perform work for the Malta Republican Committee during business hours; Sickels is the committee’s secretary.

The report also found that the same employee was told to campaign door-to-door for Sickels, and another was told to write letters of support.

“We want to get the politics out of town hall,” Sausville said.

All members of the Town Board are Republicans like Sickels; board member Tara Thomas is Sickels’ daughter, and is expected to recuse herself from votes involving her mother.

Sickels, a 22-year incumbent, was successfully re-elected to a 12th two-year term in November. She did not respond to a message left at her office Friday seeking comment for this story.

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