MALONE – A three-month investigation by the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office has revealed numerous conflicts of interest among local elected officials, which could have influenced some governmental decisions. The district attorney is calling on elected officials to disclose all conflicts, and for the county to create a board of ethics to handle future problems.
According to a press release from District Attorney Derek Champagne’s office, “The investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents,” showing relationships, “between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other counties). These relationships, if coupled with certain official decisions and actions, could constitute the crimes of official misconduct or bribery involving public servants, Champagne said.
“The investigation started because of a number of allegations made pertaining to easements and contracts related to the wind tower developments and alleged elected officials being connected to that development,” Champagne said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Although Champagne did not name anyone, the Malone Telegram reported in late January that court filings showed that Councilman Arnold Lobdell had ties to Jericho Rise Wind Park LLC, and David Vincent had ties to Noble Chateaugay Windpark LLC. According to county Legislator Daniel Crippen of Burke, the two have since recused themselves from any further board decisions on the town’s wind laws.
Champagne said he has forwarded all the evidence he has gathered, except for those items obtained through grand jury subpoenas, to the state attorney general and inspector general, “as many issues raised and reviewed in our investigation are beyond our jurisdiction.”
“The state inspector general can look into the expenditure of public funds,” Champagne said. “Some of the allegations I received pertain to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or the state Public Service Commission, and the Inspector General has jurisdiction over these allegations. The attorney general’s office would be better suited to examine why there are these same issues and allegations in 10 counties across New York State.”
It remains to be seen whether charges will be filed against anyone. Champagne said such charges would be handled by a county grand jury, although he would have no problem with the attorney general’s office taking over.
“He has a much larger staff and greater resources,” Champagne said. “I wouldn’t stand in his way, I would welcome it.”
Champagne said he has spoken to state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo about this matter several times over the phone.
Champagne sent copies of the law that regulates such conflicts to every town, village and school district in the county earlier this week, “to fully apprize elected officials of the prohibited conflicts of interest of municipal officers and their employees.
“Each governing body is also being urged to adopt and/or update their respective code of ethics and to consider working with the Franklin County Legislature to adopt a standard code throughout the county,” the statement read.
Champagne recommended the county form a board of ethics to make rulings on where conflicts exist, and to update its code of ethics, which was written in 1970.
“A uniform, standard code of ethics, applicable throughout the county, would assist local boards in rendering consistent advice and to avoid self dealing,” he said.
County Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, said the administrative committee, which consists of himself, Earl LaVoie, D-Malone, and Gordy Crossman, D-Malone, would do this.
“We have a resolution,” Maroun said. “I’ve read it, and it’s fairly thorough.”
Maroun also said he thought the county should not impose too detailed guidelines on the towns and villages, and leave that to municipal attorneys.
“Do we want to tell the towns and villages below us what to do for their ethics?” Maroun asked.
For example, Maroun said some municipalities might want to adopt stricter ethical regulations than the county.
By Nathan Brown
4 April 2008
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