YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Seventeen months ago, Councilman Ed Lachterman filed an ethics complaint against Councilman Vishnu Patel.
About nine months after that, former supervisor Susan Siegel (2010-11) filed an ethics complaint against her successor, former supervisor Michael Grace (2012-17).
The town’s Board of Ethics has yet to render a decision in either complaint and, due to the covert nature of the board, which reviews complaints in private, it is unclear where it stands in either review process.
Email messages to the board’s chair, Albert J. Durante, went unreturned. Another member declined to comment, including whether the board had ever met to discuss the complaints.
“I can’t understand why it’s taking so long for the Ethics Board to address my complaint,” Siegel said. “Why have an Ethics Board if it can’t or doesn’t want to do anything? My complaint was filed in July 2018. How many times has the Ethics Board met to review the complaint?”
Lachterman, on the other hand, was less critical of the board.
“They have been reviewing the complaint for a while now,” he said. “It is not that they have been avoiding it… I am disappointed with the amount of time but appreciate that the Ethics Board is taking their charge as seriously as they are and making sure that all information is investigated.”
Lachterman’s complaint against Patel, dated Oct. 11, 2017, alleged that the three-term councilman divulged sensitive information to the press. Specifically, Patel is accused of revealing information that was discussed in a September 2017 executive session of the Town Board regarding the publicly funded legal defense of Grace.
According to Lachterman, Patel violated Section 45-5 (D) of the town code, which states, “No town official or employee shall use any confidential information received by him in the course of his duties as a town official or employee to further the interests of himself or others, nor shall any town official or employee divulge any confidential information so received.”
Siegel’s complaint, dated July 18, 2018, alleged that Grace, less than a year removed from office, represented Breslin Realty before the Planning Board, which was a violation of the “revolving door” section of the town’s ethics code, which reads:
“It shall be a presumptive conflict of interest for any former elected town official, within one year after leaving office, to represent another person or corporation before any town body.” §45-5 (I)
“How long should it take to decide whether a former town official violated the very clearly written one-year revolving door provision in the ethics code?” Siegel said.
Grace, a lawyer with offices across the street from town hall, has represented Breslin Realty at several more Planning Board meetings since the complaint was filed. He has also since announced his candidacy for District 4 Westchester County legislator (New Castle and portions and Somers and Yorktown).
Though the Ethics Board, members of which are appointed by the Town Board, reviews complaints and renders decisions, it can only suggest punishment for offenders. The Town Board is not required to follow the suggestions.
An amendment to the town code, which would have made the Board of Ethics more independent from the Town Board, was considered in 2015 but was not pursued.