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Glenville to consider ethics law changes

Glenville to consider ethics law changes

Proposal comes amid election debate about possible conflict of interest
Glenville to consider ethics law changes
The Glenville Municipal Center is pictured on Aug. 15.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

GLENVILLE -- The Town Board will consider changes in the town ethics law, including adding a provision that would ban town officers or employees from holding other public sector employment "deemed incompatible with his or her town office or employment."

The changes will be the subject of a public hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 6 -- the day after Election Day.

While the town ethics law hasn't been updated in nearly 20 years, the proposed limitation on outside employment by town employees or officers is coming amid an election campaign in which Republicans have challenged the ethics of village of Scotia Public Works Superintendent Andrew Kohout being a candidate for Glenville Town Board.

Democrats control political office in Scotia, while the Glenville Town Board has a 3-2 Republican majority, and other town elected officials are Republicans.

The matter was a source of debate at Wednesday's Town Board, though all five board members finally voted to schedule the public hearing.

"There was some contention about it," said Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle, who is also the Schenectady County Republican chairman. "This would bring us in line with the New York state ethics law model. I think this unfortunate event has just brought to light the inadequacy of our current law."

Councilman Michael Godlewski, a Democrat elected two years ago and an attorney, said the timing of the proposal seems suspect. "Basically, we think this is completely politically motivated, the timing, who is bringing this forward," he said.

In the Nov. 5 election, Democrats have nominated Kohout and Eric Buskirk for Town Board, where they are completing against incumbent Republican Gina Wierzbowski and Jim Martin. With Republican board member John Pytlovany retiring, Martin is running to return to the Town Board after being defeated in a re-election bid in 2018.

Republicans have appeared before both the Glenville Town Board and Scotia Village Board to say they believe Kohout would have a conflict of interest if he were on the Town Board while also holding the appointed job of village public works superintendent, overseeing the village's streets, water and sewer systems.

Scotia Mayor Thomas Gifford said that because Kohout doesn't decide policy, there is no conflict. Godlewski said he could foresee instances where Kohout might have to recuse himself from an issue, but he doesn't believe there would be major conflicts.

Koetzle said the changes are only being proposed at this time because Kohout's candidacy brought it to his attention, and nothing will change before the election. "It will not be acted on before the election," he said. "We will have a chance to hear from the public on this."

"The Democrats believe the timing is suspect, but it was brought to our attention and now we are acting," he said.

"The fact they're kind of fast-tracking it is also interesting," Godlewski said. "Normally when we look at code changes, we convene a committee, we take our time. In my opinion, they're really trying to tailor this law to Andrew Kohout's candidacy."

As to whether there's any conflict, Democrats cite a 1977 state attorney general's advisory opinion that an appointed village public works superintendent can serve on a town board without a conflict, while Republicans cite a 1985 opinion that refers to someone serving a town and village as having "divided loyalities."

Koetzle said be believes there could be conflicts because the town and village negotiate contracts for fire protection and water and sewer rates for town residents served by village utilities, and in at least one current case -- the Glen Oaks development -- the town wants to extend a town water line to a development now served by village water.

Godlewski agreed there could be instances where Kohout would need to recuse himself from voting.

"Its a fair issue. The public should consider it," he said. "But it seems like this law is really an attempt to undermine his candidacy. Let the people decide."

While Godlewski voted along with Democrat Michael Aragosa to schedule the Nov. 6 public hearing, he said he can't support the change as written. "As I stand right now, I am opposed to this revision to the ethics law as presented," he said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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