Rye Ethics Board See No Conflict of Interest–Dismiss Complaint Against Mayor French By LEON SCULTI

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Sculti-Leon

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RYE, NY –  More than $10,000 in improper school tax exemptions acquired by Republican Mayor Doug French, as well as multiple building code violations issued for his investment property at 13 Richard Place were to take center stage at a Board of Ethics meeting held at City Hall Thursday morning, January 12, 2012.  However, the three-member board, each appointed by Rye Mayor Douglas French, decided not to proceed.

A PATTERN OF WRONGDOING EMERGES

Rye rabble-rouser Ray Tartaglione requested City Manager Scott Pickup convene the board to meet on what is beginning to look like a pattern of wrongdoing by Mr. French stretching back over two decades.  The mayor's troubles first began when it was discovered he has owned an illegal single-family home in Rye for the past 19 years–and that he has rented that illegal structure–which has a bedroom in the illegally finished attic–for the past 11 years. On

December 23, 2011, two days after the release of a video chronicling the violations at 13 Richard Place went viral on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6nWzVM99R8), new building inspector Maureen Eckman served Mayor French with violations for the illegal home and the illegally finished attic [3]–blowing away 75 days of public denials by the mayor: who repeatedly said his property was not in violation of the code, that the allegations were false, and that he was a victim of personal attacks.

Mayor French has also been caught with his hand in the cookie jar for improperly receiving, for a decade, one too many school tax exemptions for his two properties in Rye.  Even though City Assessor Noreen Whitty cast suspicion over all of Rye's taxpayers by saying in the Rye Record (December 9, 2011) that other citizens had the same improper "duplicate exemptions" as the mayor, a response for a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request revealed, that in fact, Doug and Carrie French were the only Rye residents caught double-dipping on the School Tax Relief Program (STAR) [1].

Mr. Pickup and Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson, both ex-officio members of the Ethics Board were specifically implicated in the complaint and recused themselves from the hearing.

EIGHT MINUTES INTO MEETING AND BOARD GOES INTO EXECUTIVE SESSION

At 10:00am on January 12, 2012, the three members of the Board of Ethics: Former Rye City Councilwoman Elizabeth Griffin Matthews; former Mayor Edward Dunn; and former Judge John Alfano arrived at City Hall. They were joined by Mr. Frank J. Rubino, former Yonkers Corporation Counsel, and presently an attorney employed by Harris Beach, who sat in for the recused Ms. Wilson to serve as Corporation Counsel.

As the meeting began, Mr. Alfano immediately raised the issue of 'standing' and who does and does't have the authority to bring an ethical complaint to the board. Mr. Pickup, who had recused himself from the proceedings [Re·cuse \ri-ˈkyüz\ verb: to remove oneself from participation] was seated at the table with the board and nodded his head in agreement with Mr. Alfano's statements.

Mr. Rubino then reminded the board that in the complaint "one of the issues that was brought up were whether the board members themselves had conflicts of interest." After discussing if they should go into executive session to determine if they had any possible conflicts of interest, Ms. Griffin Matthews, who was nominated chair of the meeting, announced that the board would indeed go into executive session to "seek the advice of counsel on personnel matters." Discussing potential conflicts of interest, and/or 'standing' in a case is not enumerated as lawful cause to enter into a closed executive session under the New York State PUBLIC OFFICERS LAW, ARTICLE 7, OPEN MEETINGS, Section 105 (http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/openmeetlaw.html). The meeting was then temporarily closed to the public.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, OR JUST A 'REPUBLICAN CLUB'?

Mr. Alfano, who was appointed to the Ethics Board by Mayor French in 2010, served on the search committee that chose Mr. French as the Republican nominee for mayor in 2009 (http://www.myrye.com/my_weblog/2009/04/casting-call-for-rye-republicans-this-saturday.html). After winning the election–speaking of Mayor French's campaign efforts–Mr. Alfano was quoted in the Rye Record as saying, “In addition to achieving a sweeping victory, all had fun and an enjoyable experience, and would like to continue with the informal social aspects that can be achieved through the Rye Republican Club."  New York State Board of Elections financial disclosure reports show that Mr. Alfano also supported that "Republican Club" by contributing $641 to Mayor French's campaign–the Committee for Change in Rye–in 2009. [7]

According to New York State Board of Elections, Mr. Dunn, the former Republican Mayor of Rye, and a member of the same "Republican Club" contributed $1,000 to Mayor French's campaign in 2009 as well. [8]  Mr. Dunn was also re-appointed to the Ethics Board by Mayor French just 12 hours prior to his sitting in judgement of ethical complaints brought against the mayor (at the January 11, 2012, City Council Meeting).

Ms. Griffin Matthews, a Democrat, was appointed to the Board of Ethics  by Mayor French in 2011.

CASE DISMISSED

After about 40 minutes, the three-member board came out of executive session. Ms. Griffin Matthews began by stating, "Each of us determined that we had no conflicts in rendering an impartial decision," she continued, "secondly, we considered whether the board is empowered to render an advisory opinion in response to the complaint, and determined that we do not have jurisdiction for two reasons, the request did not come from an officer or employee of the city and the board is empowered to render advisory opinions prospectively to help employees and officers comply with the code of ethics."  Again, Mr. Pickup, who recused himself from the hearing, sat at the table nodding his head in agreement.  Case closed.

You can view the meeting in its entirety at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWbejVFyN7A

Leon Sculti is a freelance journalist and an independent film maker.

eHeziRye Ethics Board See No Conflict of Interest–Dismiss Complaint Against Mayor French By LEON SCULTI

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