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MALTA – Prior to the Malta Town Board agenda meeting on Monday, April 28, Town Attorney Thomas Peterson read a letter of counsel arising out of findings from the town ethics committee, which had affirmed its earlier findings of misconduct by Town Clerk Flo Sickels.
The ethics committee recommended that the town board “…issue a letter of counsel to the Town Clerk expressing its disapproval with the violations…” to Ms. Sickels, and further that she be required to attend live ethics training and show proof of attendance.
The letter of counsel from the town board, which was approved by a 3-0 vote (with Councilperson Tara Thomas recusing and Councilperson John Hartzell absent), changed a key word “required” to “recommended” ethics training.
Tax Receiver Linda Bablin, who initiated the original complaint last September, noted this nuance:
“This letter of counsel is a joke,” she said “They couldn’t even follow the Ethics Committee’s recommendation, which stated Sickels should be “Required to attend live ethics training and furnish to the Town Board evidence of completing the training.”
“All they did was suggest she attend ethics training.” Ms. Bablin continued. “Every committee, every elected official and every department head was already “required” to attend the ethics training put on by the Town on March 7. Some of these people are paid employees and were not even compensated for that. Sickels chose not to attend that training. Since she is the only one who has been found “guilty” of unethical behavior, the fact that the Board opted for an even lesser consequence for her and her actions, is deplorable.”
MALTA – “The town clerk solicited, on multiple occasions, employees to make a political contribution, through time, effort, endorsement or signature.”
So stated a report issued by the Town of Malta Ethics Committee in recommending by a unanimous 7-0 vote that Town Clerk Flo Sickels be censured for both conducting herself, or ordering employees she supervised to conduct political activities on town property during work hours.
Sickels has been Malta’s town clerk for 22 years and is running for her twelfth 2-year term in the next election on November 5. She has been endorsed by the Republican and Conservative parties.
The Malta town board has up to 45 days to act upon the ethics committee’s findings. They can accept, modify or reject the findings. A special ethics committee meeting has been scheduled for November 4 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the David R. Meager Community Center, Room 106, One Bayberry Drive, Malta. The next town board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, November 6, which is the day after Election Day.
The ethics committee began investigating Sickels’ actions after receiving a written complaint from Tax Collector Linda Bablin regarding Sickels’ directing employees in the town clerk office to engage in activities on behalf of the Malta Republican Committee.
The ethics committee reported that Deputy Clerk Jennifer Lanahan was directed by Sickels to prepare the Republican committee minutes “on at least one occasion, on town property, during normal business hours, while they were being paid for their time” by the Town of Malta. This was found by the ethics committee to be a violation of section 11-12A of the Town of Malta Code of Ethics, regarding use of municipal resources:
The report also states that Lanahan and former Deputy Town Clerk Linda Deprey were asked to contribute to Sickel’s political campaign in the form of signing petitions, getting signatures on petitions, writing letters of support and campaigning door-to-door.
The ethics committee found these actions to be in violation of sections 11-15a of the ethics code, regarding political solicitation.
The ethics committee also reported that more than one town employee described specific examples of behavior on Sickels’ behalf that they believed were retaliatory against people who objected or did not comply with her requests.
The report also included a third complaint, alleging that Sickels handled matters related to her role on behalf of the Eastline Romp and Play dog park, a not-for-profit organization during her workday as town clerk.
In this case the ethics committee was “not able to find evidence significant enough to either prove or disprove that allegation.”