Thursday, April 19, 2012


Town Board and the Lack of Ethics
April 19, 2012
By Ray Mooney

The recent history of ethics in our town may be found through the link on this blog’s first post.

The videos of the April 18 Town Board meeting may be found at:    Board comments Part 1    Board comments Part 2   Board comments  Part 3   Board comments  Part 4        For comments by Jack Conway and Ray Mooney    For Bonnie Lester Part 1     For Bonnie Lester Part 2

(Gadfly Note:  It is VERY important for all readers to listen carefully to the comments made by Board members Mangold, OBrien and Matters on the first four clips above.  Listen carefully to the arguments and positions advanced.  We lost a few seconds of Bonnie's comments due to the necessity of changing memory cards.)

Last night the public hearing for the ethics code recommended to the Town Board by the Ethics Board was defeated by Ginny O’ Brien and Sue Mangold. Phil Malone was absent and did not vote. Rick Matters put forward the motion on the resolution (No. 54-2012) for the public hearing; Keith Langley seconded the motion.

After ten months of legal wrangling with Town Attorney Joe Liccardi the draft of the revised ethics code recommended by our Ethics Board is finally available to the public. It may be found at:

Rick Matters, Ginny O’Brien and Sue Mangold shared their thoughts on the ethics code. As an editorial comment we have heard Rick Matters speak before. His words last evening reflected his usual deep thoughtfulness, simple wisdom and sound, value based grounding in what is best for our town.

Town Hall was filled with members of the public for last night’s Town Board meeting. There were only a few empty seats. A number of members of the public spoke in support of the ethics code and in support of Rick Matters’ resolution for a simple public hearing. Not one member of the public spoke to support Ginny O’Brien and Sue Mangold’s opposition to the public hearing.

There were two really note worthy comments that made the evening interesting. The first goes to Tom Grant who thanked Rick Matters and told Mr. Matters and the Town Board and the public in attendance that last night was another example of why Tom was proud to have voted for Rick Matters.

But the top comment of the evening goes to Bonnie Lester. Bonnie spoke last and it was clearly a case of saving the best for last. And so, Bonnie, this article, with full credit and deep appreciation to you, borrows your question for the ages to our Town Board: “WHY NOT THE BEST?”

And so, rather than add anything to Bonnie’s simply perfect question I have decided to frame a series of additional questions to the Democratic Party majority that has chosen to block the ethics code recommended to them by their very own Ethics Board.

Ms. O’Brien and Ms. Mangold: You both spoke eloquently and at length about your own personal commitment to ethical conduct. If those words are valid why did you vote against the public hearing resolution? If your words have any real meaning shouldn’t you have backed those words up with a “yes” vote?

Ms. Mangold: You stated that you have never voted to enhance your family’s business positions in town. In just one example, at the 2012 Organizational Meeting you voted to confirm your brother as a town consultant. Didn’t that represent a conflict of interest? Do you want to revise your remarks?

Mr. Malone: How would have voted? “Yes” for the public hearing on the ethics code or “No” with your fellow Democrats? On an issue as important as an ethics code the voters of our town have a right to know and to hear your thoughts on the ethics code.

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: can you state for the record that as of this moment the Town is in full compliance with even the 1974 version of the ethics code? If you don’t know do you care to find out?

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: You mentioned the size of our town as a factor is your lack of support for the recommended ethics code. How does that work? Are small town officials, in your minds exempted from behaving ethically? Is it only the glare of the media in larger cities that forces ethics on government officials? What exactly is it that makes a logical connection between the size of the town and officials responsibilities to conduct themselves to high ethical standards?

Ms. O’Brien: You expressed a concern that a decent ethics code will discourage people from running for office. What are you implying? That people run for office so they can conduct themselves in any way other than fully ethically? Further, if a good and decent ethics codes does, in fact, discourage people from running for office shouldn’t we view that as a good thing?

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: Jack Conway, speaking on behalf of the entire Ethics Board, took strong exception to your characterization of the Ethics Board as not fulfilling its responsibilities to the Town Board. I was present at the September 2011 public meeting and I confirmed last night that Mr. Conway spoke factually.  Do you wish to revise your remarks?

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien – both of you have to abstain occasionally on votes because your family members’ work puts you in conflict with your duties as a Town Board member. That is never true for Mr. Matters and Mr. Langley. Why shouldn’t voters view that in the context of last night votes and question your true motives?

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: The main issue you addressed last night in your rejection of the recommended ethics code is the financial disclosure requirement. Can you enlighten us, through you discussions with the other Town Board members, why Supervisor Langley and Board Member Matters do not have this same concern? What is unique about you both that differentiates you? We realize that Ed Gilbert’s “What are you trying to hide?” question was indelicate. But, if there is really nothing to hide why would you be opposed to financial disclosure?  

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: You mentioned that the Ethics Board has been inflexible. Don’t we want an Ethics Board that steers clear of your political interests and stands firm on values and principles? Don’t we want an Ethics Board that will be strictly non-political?

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: The Ethics Board is comprised of members each of you appointed. Ms. Mangold that means Justine Spada serves on the Ethics Board as your appointee. Are you disappointed in her work?  Ms. O’Brien: same question regarding your appointee – Jack Conway. Are you disappointed with his work on the Ethics Board? If you are why do they continue to serve? If you are not why did you reject their work and their recommendation?

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: Isn’t it fair for voters to conclude that with all the research and all the work and all the brainstorming and the resources of an outside attorney paid for by tax payers that the Ethics Board knows more about an ethics code than you both do? If that’s a fair conclusion why did you reject their recommended ethics code?

Ms. Mangold and Ms. O’Brien: “WHY NOT THE BEST?”

 (If anyone wants a better copy of the Draft Code, send an e-mail to and you'll get a .pdf copy in return.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Here's the POOP in the Hudson

Our friend Dwight Jenkins introduced this issue back in February on the Prays blog.  The Times Union took note of the larger issue (without mentioning East Greenbush. Go figure), in a recent editorial.  I suppose that folks are inclined to do the “wink and nod” response to poop in the Hudson, because everybody supposedly does it.  But the exploration of the political context and time-line is very revealing.

The 2000 audit by OSC of East Greenbush finances concluded that (with post-audit adjustments) the general sewer fund was solvent.  By 2008, the combined deficits in the sewer and water funds was $2.5 million.  This was due to un-repaid interfund borrowing for the benefit of the Town’s General Fund.  (At the moment, I don’t have the breakdown between the sewer/water funds.) 

Interestingly, in 2000 the Town signed its first Consent Order related to dumping POOP into the Hudson.  I won’t take the space to detail all the FOILs, but suffice it to say that the Town continued to dump POOP into the Hudson for the following 11 years, culminated by the most recent letter from DEC.  This letter states that …..”The Department was recently made aware that over 50 new sewer connections have been made to the Town’s sanitary sewer system since 2009 without prior written approval from the Department.   

But what does all this really mean in the context of the political environment?  This is where things get decided isn’t it?  Well here’s a suggestion, summarized from a conversation with an “old salt” who’s been around for a while.

East Greenbush has been over capacity
They knew it
They didn't care
They didn't want to give up the approval rights for development to the County
Still don't
The sewer fund makes money
Cheaper to pay the fine than give up the cash flow that funded other departments
Status quo was easier
They didn't care
They paid the fine
They kept approving projects
Everyone made money
They are still approving projects

An issue was made of this a few years ago and the matter was ignored..  They can not afford to update the facility to handle the capacity.  They can not bifurcate the system and split treatment with the county, it's an all or nothing process.  They don't want to give up the approval right for projects to the County because that is where the power is.  If you can grant approvals, you can bring in donations.  If the County has a say, it takes power away from the Town and donations are split between the Town and County and two different parties.  It's that simple.  

The sewer fund makes money and has been where they have been taking money to fund their underfunded budget lines in the General Fund.  They owe it over a million dollars.  The right thing to do is to shift the control and treatment of our effluent over to the county.  Sewers can more easily be expanded out to Schodack and beyond if you do.  The Dems in EG haven't wanted to do that.  They should put a stop to Carver Court right now because they want to go to apartments and don't have the capacity to treat the additional effluent.  Development should by right come to a stop, make the switch and go from there.  It isn't an over night solution thought because there is no switch to flip.  They have to build the connector from our plant to the County system which will take more than a couple of months.

They never disclosed fines or told the public about them, they just paid it because it was easier.

I can’t find any Resolutions or Board records which would have made the fines to DEC or the Consent Orders a matter of public record.  Maybe somebody out there can help.  Bottom line, in my view, is that the Town’s administration from 2000 through 2011 created a huge (secret) problem which has been dumped in the lap of Keith Langley.  He’s supposed to be signing a new Consent Order. 

I’d suggest that Mr. Langley convene a community meeting to detail the history of the problems we have with processing POOP and make the matter open to ownership by ALL the stakeholders who live in East Greenbush – not just the “establishment” which has been living off keeping the secret and paying the minimal fines.

I’d also suggest that if this situation had been public knowledge prior to November of 2011, there would likely be an entirely different majority on the Town Board.