MILTON – The Town Board voted 3-1 Wednesday to set a May 3 public hearing on a controversial proposed change in the town’s ethics law. [Read more…]
MALTA — A subdivision of 20 houses was proposed Monday at the north end and east side of South Ruhle Road, between the Zim Smith Trail to the south and Ballston Creek to the north. [Read more…]
MALTA — An ethics code review committee chaired by Councilman Tim Dunn has completed four and a half months of work, cross-referenced with state and local resources, and research with legal experts, to ensure elected officials are included in the town’s employee conduct policies. [Read more…]
Beyond the low taxes and business development promised by all of the Republican candidates for Malta’s Town Council, longtime General Electric employee and Malta resident Craig Warner is also promising increased transparency if he is elected. [Read more…]
MALTA – The Town Board on Monday settled a legal case brought by Deputy Town Clerk Jennifer Chudy, who alleged that she was harassed by Town Clerk Flo Sickels. [Read more…]
Citing “Procedural Problems and Issues,” Town Sends Report back to Ethics Committee to Re-Submit
UPDATE: Ethics Committee attorney Christine Carsky said the complaint was re-signed under penalty of perjury Tuesday. Carsky’s additional comments have been added to the article, first published 10:38 a.m. Nov. 19.
MALTA – The Town Board sent a report suggesting Town Clerk Flo Sickels be censured for ethical misconduct back to the town Ethics Committee at a meeting Monday night, saying the committee had not entirely followed proper legal procedures. [Read more…]
Ethics Committee: Town Clerk Ran Political Campaign on Taxpayer’s Time
UPDATE: The Ethics Committee hearing scheduled for Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m. has been cancelled. Chairwoman Mary Law Powell stated: “We scheduled the meeting when we weren’t sure if we would be permitted to speak at the Oct. 28 Town Agenda meeting. As we were permitted to speak at that meeting we saw no reason to have the Nov. 4 meeting.”
MALTA – Town Clerk Flo Sickels was found to have violated town ethics laws by engaging in activities related to her re-election campaign during work hours and seeking out town employees’ help to do so, a nonpartisan committee reported Monday.
BY BARBARA COOK
The Marines may be looking for “a few good men,” but the Milton ethics board is looking for a few good men or women.
The board has a vacancy to fill as soon as possible, and will have two more at the end of the year. Board members serve two- or three-year terms.
According to the Milton Code of Ethics, the ethics board is comprised of five members, with no more than three from the same political party. Members are volunteers and cannot be employees or officials of the town but must be residents of the town.
The ethics board is an advisory board that is independent from the town board, said member Kevin Borowsky. It reviews complaints against town employees or officials that may be in violation of the ethics code. Once the investigation is complete, the board renders an advisory opinion to the town board.
The purpose of the ethics board is to ensure that town employees and officials are held to standards that increase public confidence. It also protects the employees and officials from unwarranted accusations.
“We’re trying to make it more accountable, more open,” Borowsky explained. “And give another area for people to go to if they see something that they think is misusing taxpayer dollars.”
Borowsky said if someone believes they have a valid complaint, they should first look at the code of ethics on the town website. Specific points of the ethics code that are believed to be in violation must be cited on the complaint form. The form cannot be filled out anonymously, and must be notarized. Forms are available from the town clerk.
During 2011, the ethics board investigated five legitimate complaints. More were submitted, but Borowsky said many were personnel matters, not ethics violations. Others were resolved by the parties themselves. And others blurred the lines of code violations but once the board brought them to the parties’ attention they resolved the issue.
Borowsky said people can be confident that the ethics board will take complaints seriously and investigate them. Even if there’s not a violation, there might be an improper practice that needs to be rectified.
The ethics board is trained by qualified professionals who are proficient in municipal ethics. “We’re sort of bordering legal investigation in certain cases,” Borowsky observed. They have legal boundaries that they have to follow, under the guidance of legal counsel.
Prospective board members should be available to attend evening meetings, sometimes several times a month. Borowsky said they should also be fair and impartial, and willing to do things as required by law.
“You have to deal with two different parties,” he said, “so you have to be as fair as possible. You have to give the person being accused a chance to respond.”
Anyone interested in applying for the ethics board should forward a resume to the Town of Milton, c/o Ethics Board, 503 Geyser Rd., Ballston Spa, NY 12020.
BY PATRICIA OLDER
After months of controversy, criminal investigations, and accusations, Milton supervisor Frank Thompson can take a breath – another investigation, the one into his annual financial disclosure forms and the validity of the information on them – has concluded.
Thompson dodged having criminal charges filed against him by amending the forms and submitting them prior to an imposed deadline.
Thompson’s forms for seven of his eight years as supervisor were found to be incorrect. The forms came under scrutiny following his wife’s arrest for grand larceny last spring.
Special prosecutor, Fulton county district attorney Louise Sira, said Thompson’s forms for 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011 listed his wife as being “retired,” while in fact she worked for Belmont Management Corporation, a company which manages three senior citizen apartment complexes in the town.
“It’s really pretty straight forward,” said Sira of the forms. “One place asks for place of spouse’s employment and the next does the company have any contractual dealings with the town. He listed his wife as retired when in fact she was employed.”
Sira gave Thompson until the morning of Friday, Oct. 14, to file amended and corrected forms, which he did.
If he had not corrected and filed the amended forms, Thompson could have been charged with filing a false written statement, a Class A misdemeanor, and faced up to a $10,000 fine.
Thompson said he did not understand the forms when he was filling them out, but for one year, 2009, he lists Belmont as his wife’s employer.
He said he listed his wife as retired because he “didn’t read the question thoroughly and that [he] made a mistake on the form,” said Sira.
“I am not sure why he did that, the forms are pretty self-explanatory,” said Sira. “But since there was no contractual agreement between Belmont and the town, there was no other reason he could have left it off.”
Sira went onto to say in the investigation, her office had look into whether or not Thompson had left the information off of the forms intentionally to cover possible mis-dealings.
“We have to look at what the reasons could have been [for omitting the information,] for example, maybe steering business their way or offering contracts,” said Sira. “It is disclosed [on the forms] to avoid the possibility of, or the appearance of improprieties.”
Troubles for the supervisor began early this year when Thompson and his wife both came under investigation for her handling of an elderly woman’s money. The victim, a woman Deborah Thompson met through her employment with Belmont, had asked Mrs. Thompson to become her financial guardian when her health began to deteriorate in 2009.
Shortly afterwards, the woman was transferred to Maplewood Manor and Mrs. Thompson started paying herself a monthly stipend from the woman’s account. She also began taking money out for casinos, season tickets for family members to the Great Escape, and dinners out.
The woman’s bank noticed the increase in activity in her accounts and notified the state, which looked into the matter. Soon afterward, Mrs. Thompson was brought into court when the state tried to remove her as guardian, and she was asked by Judge Jerry Scarano to document an accounting of the money she had spent.
While at Maplewood, the victim’s health began to improve and she became aware of the missing money and told authorities she had not authorized the withdrawals.
In April Mrs. Thompson was arrested and charged with grand larceny.
In the meantime, the state continued to investigate Frank Thompson to see if he had any knowledge of or benefitted from his wife’s crime. The state tax and finance department also opened an investigation.
The supervisor was later cleared of any wrong doing in his wife’s crime.
She pled guilty to attempted grand larceny in a plea deal in which she would serve no jail time, make restitution of almost $30,000 and spend five years on probation. Thompson relinquished his share in the family home and it is on the market for sale. Mrs. Thompson said in court the restitution will be paid through the sale of the home.
But Thompson’s troubled year did not end there. Right after his wife’s arrest, he lost the endorsement of the Republican committee to newcomer and challenger, Dan Lewza. He was still in the runoff for the fall election though when he filed the necessary paperwork, but those too, came under scrutiny. The signatures were later validated, but Thompson lost the election.
Additionally, a local ethic’s investigation was launched, but has not been concluded. The Milton Board of Ethic’s has promised an update on their investigation at next month’s town board meeting.
BY SAM CAPUANO
You can say this about Frank Thompson: the Town Of Milton Supervisor is never boring. He may have been beaten in the Republican primary last month by Dan Lewza, but it appears as though in his last few months in office he will continue to generate headlines.
First of all, there is the current budget situation. It seems as though the town will have to blow through most of its rainy day fund ($1.6 million) to balance its budget. While this is not necessarily all on his shoulders, he is the man at the top. By the time the full effect of this financial situation is known, Thompson will be out of office.
The other big news coming out of Milton last week was the apparent end of the ethics investigation against Thompson from the special prosecutor. Actually, the fact they needed a special prosecutor at all still makes me scratch my head, but that’s another story. Anyways, said prosecutor, Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira announced last week her investigation is complete on Thompson. But, it wouldn’t be Frank Thompson if there wasn’t some excitement and controversy along the way.
Thompson, just under the wire, submitted eight years of ethics disclosure forms. Or rather, re-submitted. The forms needed to be corrected. This was due to the omission on the forms pertaining to his estranged wife Deborah, and listing one of her employers.
When the story of Frank Thompson is written someday, at least one chapter will have to be devoted to Deborah Thompson. It was her arrest earlier this year of stealing thousands of dollars from an elderly person that essentially doomed Frank’s reelection campaign this year. He claimed he did not know anything about it. Just like he claimed he made an honest mistake on the ethics disclosure forms last week, a mistake that could have cost him $10,000.
Whether or not his claims are true does not matter. Not when it comes to politics. And not when it comes to someone as polarizing as Frank Thompson in the court of public opinion. The Milton Republican party was looking for someone to replace him two years ago, but Thompson, and the voters foiled their plans. This year, the combination of a formidable candidate in Lewza, and the lingering ethics investigation sealed Thompson’s fate.
Along with maintaining his innocence in the above matters, Thompson has also maintained there was a concentrated effort against him in the primary. Well, yup, there probably was. Deborah Thompson’s legal matter stretched out far longer than it should have. Everyone and their brother recused themselves, just like they did in the ethics investigation of Frank.
That said, this doesn’t explain why, according to several witnesses, Thompson was hastily filling out the disclosure forms at a Board of Supervisors law and finance committee meeting last week. If true (Thompson has denied doing so), and since he is the chairman of this committee, the scene is equal parts comical and embarrassing.
So are the actions, or lack thereof of Milton’s board of ethics in this matter. If they feel something was amiss pertaining to their supervisor, then they should act. If not, move on. As with everything else pertaining to Thompson, there have been recusals, and resignations here as well. If the board of ethics would have stepped up and taken a stand one way or the other, the residents of Milton would have been well served.
Because, now, at this point, does it really matter anymore what they do? Thompson is now a lame-duck supervisor, has taken his lumps, and will be gone soon. Any decisions now reached by the ethics board really doesn’t have the juice it would have.
Hopefully, once Lewza takes over in January, this will all change for the better. Meaning, there will be more openness, an ethics board with some teeth and a supervisor with whom we don’t need to constantly see the words: “Did not return a call for comment” when mentioning him in a story.
Frank Thompson has shown himself to be a formidable fighter in his political career, however I now get the sense perhaps he cannot wait to leave office in January. I also get the sense his constituents perhaps feel the same way.