Maloney Fights Back!
“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 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 the congressional censorship of Joe McCarthy. Curiously enough, the legislature gave the 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 forwarded by law 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 by that board, 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?
Marching on – Pundits are predicting at least 20 contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in two years. The race for Ulster County executive might run a close second. Hardly a day goes by when somebody doesn’t tell somebody else (who tells me) they might be thinking about running.
Latest to surface was former Hein economic development coordinator March (not Marge, thank you) Gallagher. Gallagher, not to be confused with the red-headed watermelon-busting comic, has chops, even if hailing from an administration with a dismal record in job development. She did leave us with a memorable exit line: “Mike isn’t as thin-skinned as he used to be,” she told reporters. Hard to prove it by me.
Deputy county executive Marc Rider of Esopus announced his candidacy for the top job on Facebook this week. Based on experience, Rider is clearly the most qualified, but do voters want 10 more years of the Hein administration? Rider, former town of Ulster Democratic chairman, has served as assistant county attorney, purchasing department head and deputy.
Hard-charging exec candidate Patrice Courtney Strong has has been endorsed by fellow progressive Mayor Steve Noble. They’re close, literally, Strong’s home is two doors away from city hall on Broadway.
Local lawyers are looking to jump into the developing races for county judge and district attorney this year. Republican incumbents Holley Carnright (DA) and Judge Don Williams should be announcing shortly. Lurking across the scrimmage line, there’s Bryan Rounds, one of the county’s preeminent defense attorneys, for judge, and former congressional candidate Dave Clegg for DA. Clegg might have been congressman if so many Ulster candidates hadn’t split the Ulster vote. He made lots of new friends on the campaign trail.
I don’t have absolute confirmation on any of these possibilities, other than most have been showing up a lot lately.