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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Ethics Matters

by Kathy Savolt -

 

Rawlings Disagrees with Ethics Board

In an abrupt statement at the start of the March 11th Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, Trustee Manny Rawlings addressed the recently issued Ethics Board (EB) Advisory Opinion that he recuse himself from the Hunter Tier Lot affordable housing project.  He stated he disagreed with the opinion and based on advice from his private counsel, would not follow it.

 

When the topic came up in the past, Trustee Rawlings stated he would abide by the decision of the EB.  As the meeting progressed, several residents made public comments expressing their disappointment in his resistance.  Victoria Fata expressed disappointment that Rawlings was not following the EB decision and said, “You are not above the law.  Follow the rules or step aside.”

 

The question of a conflict of interest arose when it became public that Rawlings was the subject of an eviction proceeding for non-payment of rent at a building owned by Westhab/ Washingtonville Housing Alliance who eventually took possession of the apartment in question from Rawlings’ mother.  Westhab/Washingtonville Housing (a strategic partnership) is one of only two responders to a Village Request for Proposals to develop affordable housing at the Hunter Tier Parking Lot.

 

In the March 5, 2024 opinion, the EB determined that Trustee Rawlings should recuse himself from all matters related to the Hunter Tier development project.  See HERE. The opinion includes:

 

The fact that a legal action was brought against the trustee’s mother, resulting in an order of eviction, is sufficient to make it all but impossible, however honestly and persuasively a contrary argument may be made, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, or the legal challenges that likely would be brought, were the trustee not to recuse.

 

It’s not clear what “legal challenges” the EB is referring to.

 

The EB Advisory Opinion continued with specific guidance as to what actions the Trustee must take to properly recuse any time the BOT undertakes any discussion, vote, or public hearing of the project.  He must step down from the dais, panel or formal array of trustees and not be present during any executive session involving the development.  He may be present and participate as a member of the public.

 

Chari Topol Allison, a member of the EB, attended the meeting and addressed a question from Trustee Young regarding the difference between an Opinion and a Finding.  Allison explained that an Advisory Opinion is about an action before it happens while a Finding by the EB evaluated whether or not a violation of the Ethics Code had already occurred.

 

It should be noted that Rawlings has participated at every meeting of the BOT regarding the Hunter Tier Lot in general and the Westhab/Washingtonville proposal specifically since the proposals were received on October 23, 2023.

 

Revised Ethics Law

The BOT continued a public hearing on amending the current Ethics Code and resident Suzanne McCrory made substantive comments regarding the wordiness of various sections and the fact that bright line rules were not established.  She also advocated for a Code of Conduct and Mayor Sharon Torres agreed, stating that she was already working on it.  See proposed law HERE.

 

After discussion, which included commentary about the fact that the EB has been working on this with no forward motion for many years, the BOT closed the public hearing on the proposed law.  Trustee Nora Lucas then made the motion to adopt the new law now and make “tweaks” later.  Rawlings, Young and Yizar-Reid voted “no”, Lucas voted “yes”, and Mayor Torres did not vote.  It appears the majority of the BOT wants a rewrite and Young suggested that McCrory help in that effort.

 

Ethics Board Requests Funding

At the BOT work session, the EB had requested approximately $50,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.  No one could remember the EB ever having a budget line before and presumably it was due to the various ethics complaints it was currently evaluating.  In the past, the EB requested (and received) money for items such as stenography services, and a recent request to hire a forensic computer expert to analyze Village emails, that were funded in the Village Manager budget. 

 

Fees for the Village Attorney would also be paid out of this budget since the recent retainer agreement only includes the first 5 hours of an EB complaint/investigation.  Additional hours spent on complaints or investigations would be billed at the hourly rate of $375 per hour for the first seven hours, and $475 for each hour thereafter.  See HERE.

 

Establishing a budget for the EB would provide a measure of independence for them to conduct investigations without the interference of elected officials who are sometimes the subjects of complaints.

 

Torres plans to sit with the EB to get more information about what amount of funding they requested.  The EB also wants to have their own discreet emails as their work must be done confidentially.  All Village emails are currently accessible by others within the government.



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