Friday, 08 November 2013 13:32

Town of Malta Grapples with Ethics Issues

By Staff Report | News

MALTA – The monthly Malta town board meeting on Wednesday, November 6 was moved back because of Election Day.

An extra hour was added for some anticipated public comment about the town’s 2014 budget, which turned out to be minimal. Later in the meeting, the town council passed a $9,521,866 budget for 2014 by a 5-0 vote, with Councilperson Tara Thomas needing to officially abstain from two payroll line items. The budget anticipated two percent sales tax growth from 2013 and estimates that $456,000 will be needed to be drawn from the reserve fund to balance 2014 expenses.

The major items on the agenda centered on the subject of ethics, in light of the town’s ethics committee recently citing Town Clerk Flo Sickels (who was at her seat during this meeting). Thomas, who is Sickels’ daughter, recused herself during this portion of the meeting and left the room. 

A discussion about the merits of the ethics committee’s findings were handled in executive session and have not been made public at this time. 

The public did hear a discussion led by Supervisor Paul Sausville as to other recommendations by the ethics committee which could be regarded as procedural.

The town council did reaffirm that attorney Christine Karsky of Saratoga Springs would continue to advise the ethics committee for the balance of 2013 as needed. Carsky was referred to the committee during its most recent deliberations. 

The ethics committee made several recommendations arising out of that complaint filing, which ranged from making procedures for filing complaints clearer and less ambiguous, to recommending ethics training, to an examination and perhaps an overhaul of either the ethics section of the employee manual, or revise the entire manual. The committee also recommended an examination of how town employees report their work on behalf of not-for-profit (NFP) organizations, though it was unclear to many on the town board whether the committee was referring to those NFP’s that were doing business with the town, or any NFP.

Many of these recommendations were strongly objected to by town councilpersons Paul Hartzell and Maggi Ruisi, whose remarks indicated that they felt the town council was over-genuflecting in response to one incident, in the manner of using a bazooka to slay a hummingbird. 

“A waste of time,” was Ruisi’s response to some of the committee’s recommendations. 

Hartzell was even more strident in his objections, noting that the town had just completed an extensive review of its 100 plus page employee manual. Both of them said they thought that complaint procedures were clear at the present time  

Hartzell also felt that the committee should make a list of specific items in the manual that might be worth examining and said that a list could be generated of NFP’s that did business with the town, which would be small and procedures developed around that limited universe.

In the end, the town board agreed to have Sausville draft a memo back to the ethics committee asking for specificity about areas in the employee manual they found troubling and to pay an outside consultant $300 for a general overlook of it.

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