“Bustin’ rocks in the hot sun. I fought the law and the law won.” Bobby Fuller Four, 1960.
The Ulster County ethics board didn’t sentence maverick legislator Joe Maloney to hard labor, but they did fine him $7,000 – half his annual legislative salary – in a closed-door session, for violation of the county’s ethics code.
To wit, the five-member board found Maloney, I-Saugerties, guilty of voting on a union contract that included his wife, an auditor with the comptroller’s office, and lobbying the Ways and Means Committee during last year’s budget cycle to restore a position the executive had eliminated in that office. In perhaps the worst offense of all – legislators have been voting on relatives’ pay packages for years with nary a peep from the ethics board – Maloney, shortly before assuming office on Jan. 1, 2018, ignored the board’s directive that doing what he did would in fact be a violation of county ethics.
The board gave Maloney an out: resign by January 10 and they’d waive the fine. Really. To me, this coercive offer fell somewhere between blackmail and bribery, with all due respect to the esteemed members of the board. Maloney balked. He’ll fight the ruling in state supreme court, which hears such cases as a priority matter. I think he’ll win, hands down, but I only play a lawyer on TV.
At closer examination
This whole business is rather curious. For one thing, reasonable people might ask how an unelected board under the executive was given the power to pass judgement on and punish duly-elected county legislators. In most legislative bodies that authority is vested in the legislature itself; think back to the US Senate vote to censure Joe McCarthy. Curiously enough, the legislature gave the ethics board this authority to punish its own members. It’s right there in county administrative code. What could these fools have been thinking? They should be thinking that another one of them could be next.
The procedures of this ethics board should be worrisome; resembling more a star chamber proceeding than the kind of open court jurisprudence guaranteed all of us in our federal and state constitutions. The board receives complaints of unethical conduct, anonymous or otherwise, and with or without the participation of the accused, decides, in secret, if charges are warranted. Findings are, by law, forwarded to the county executive, who then decides whether or not to make them public.
I miss some things from time to time, but other than
Maloney’s case, I don’t recall any ethics board decisions being reported to the public. I can only conclude that except for Maloney, tried, convicted and fined, that either local whistle blowers have chapped lips or we have the most ethical government in human history.
Maloney’s sins, other than voting on his wife’s contract, which he shouldn’t have done, have been continually challenging the ethics of county executive Mike Hein who appoints the ethics board.
Maloney’s accusations of
Cuomo-esque administration pay to play by Hein and various and sundry contractors and vendors are scattershot to be sure, but there’s lots of smoke.
Might an ethics board worth its name at least take a sniff?