The city has responded to a Kingston Times Freedom of Information Act request by releasing a written opinion of a ruling by the city’s ethics board clearing Mayor Shayne Gallo of any conflict of interest in the hiring of attorney George Redder to work with the Kingston Local Development Corporation.
On July 7, City Clerk Carly Williams responded to the June 20 FOIL request seeking the board’s decision and all supporting documents relating to the deliberations of the ethics board regarding the appointment of Redder as counsel to the KLDC. One week earlier, Williams said that the decision was not available because an “official” version had not been produced. Board Chairwoman Jean Jacobs, however, said a written opinion on the matter had been filed with the city back in May.
The board was appointed by Gallo last year in accordance with a new ethics law. Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will questioned Redder’s appointment to the board in a January letter to Common Council President James Noble. Will noted that Gallo, an attorney, had been listed under the title “Of Counsel” on Redder’s letterhead and office signage up until at least November 2013 — the same month he was appointed to KLDC counsel. Sometime later, Gallo’s name was removed from the letterhead and covered over on the signage. The ethics law limits the awarding of city contracts to people who currently or recently have had outside business dealings with city officials. Will’s letter questioned “whether proper protocol has been followed, that a conflict of interest has not been breached, that proper disclosure had been made by the Mayor’s office and any potential appearance of impropriety is addressed.”
At a May meeting of the KLDC, Gallo dismissed the appearance of impropriety by saying that he had simply rented space in Redder’s law office. While the definition of “of counsel” varies from state to state, a 1996 opinion by the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics describes it as “the existence of a close, regular and personal relationship between the attorney and the firm.”
According to the one-page decision, the board met on April 29 to discuss Will’s letter. In a single paragraph, the board dismissed Will’s concerns denying any appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest. The decision does not contain any supporting documents or address how the board reached its conclusion.
Jacobs and board member Karen Clark Adin said last week that the decision was based solely on the contents of Will’s letter, which Jacobs called “baseless.”
The only other document included in the FOIL response is an e-mail dated July 1 from Jacobs to Janet Higgins — an assistant in the city’s corporation counsel’s office — authorizing the release of the decision.