Saturday, February 12, 2011

Is the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Serious about Ethics?

The State of New York Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics Final Report (January 1993, Henry J. Miller, chair) notes (page 7) that “Ethics laws must reflect local government’s dependence upon volunteers” and that “Ethics laws for municipal officials must be enforced locally.”

I am the volunteer the Commission had in mind. As intended, I took my complaint to the local government, then to the county government.

When you see what happened to me do you want to volunteer? I would hope, perversely,  you would see what happened to me, get mad and say, “Yes, I do.” The more people do FOIL and volunteer to look into their local governments, the harder it will be for them to hammer us all back down.

So join me. Volunteer. Get hammered.

My necessarily superficial investigation of town finances and practices found serious problems: solicitation of inappropriate payment, movement of funds from the town bank account to contractor pockets without paperwork, invoice fraud, assessment manipulation allowing privileged property owner to avoid paying taxes, filing false statements and frequent pre-dawn observation of a residence.

I went to the supervisor. I wrote for four month then met in person. She assured me no one did anything wrong. She also told me she hadn't read my complaint. Four days later I was hit with a criminal citation based on a false, indeed impossible charge. The maximum penalty: 15 days in jail based on a previously unknown law.

Thanks for volunteering! Let me know if you see any other suspicious behavior!

So I went to the county, both with a private meeting with the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors. Then I sent a letter to all the supervisors. The Chairman claims he has no authority. No one has so far has read and then stepped up to allow for a hearing as to whether the supervisor of my town, Valerie Bertram, should retain he chair of the Ethics Board.

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors is reluctant to exercise supervision over their membership or consider any action that might stem the tide of corruption in Columbia County. The county has an Ethics Policy on the website and has established an Ethics Board but that policy and that board may be disingenuous.

Is the county government right to simply wash their hands of the matter and leave a supervisor who clearly punished me for bring ethics charges to her attention as the chair of the Ethics Board?

Columbia County: is Stuyvesant the exception or the rule? Is Valerie Bertram representative or an outlier in terms of ethics?

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