From the first day he was appointed, Ulster County (UC) Legislator Joseph Maloney of Saugerties, championed transparency and fairness while condemning corruption in county government. These spoken values made several charges drawn by the Ulster County Ethics Board (UCEB), in December of 2018, that much more unbelievable to him.
“This was a political hit-job and character assasination,” Maloney said during an interview in February 2019.
While the negative implications against UCEB remain unproven, a state Supreme Court justice approved Maloney’s appeal and voided each charge last week.
“I have maintained my innocence throughout these proceedings and the court found against both the intent behind these charges, but also the process,” Maloney said in a press release on Nov. 15. “This ruling shows the inherent flaw in our current ethics board and our need to reform it.”
In December of 2017, the UCEB issued an opinion stating that Maloney should not vote on matters relating to the UC Comptroller’s Office or its funding. His wife, Elizabeth Weredyk, worked as an auditor for the comptroller’s office during this time. The first charge was brought upon Maloney after he voted in the Ways and Means Committee on a Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) contract, of which his wife is a member. He then voted on that same contract with the full legislature. The last came after he advocated for a confidential secretary position in the comptroller’s office.
As a result, Maloney was fined $7,000 dollars — roughly half a legislator’s annual salary— and recommended he be suspended for three months without pay. His case was the first in recent memory that the UCEB had fined any legislator. The UCEB offered to waive the fines if Maloney resigned by Jan. 10, 2019. Maloney refused the offer, ignored the fine and carried on as he worked on his appeal.
In regard to his votes on the CSEA contract, Justice Richard Mott ruled that the evidence of misconduct relied solely on Maloney’s votes, which lacked substantial evidence to make them valid. In a previous interview, Legislator David B. Donaldson noted that the contract also pertains to roughly 1,000 other county employees aside from Maloney’s wife. He also pointed out that legislators have no part in the contract negotiation. They simply vote on them as is the legislature’s main function.
As for arguing for a confidential secretary for the comptroller’s office, Mott decided that the findings were unsupported by the record, labeling them “arbitrary and capricious.” Maloney previously explained that he felt the initial removal of the position was politically motivated. The UCEB claimed the charge was initially brought up because Maloney was trying to give his wife additional help.
According to an article written by The Daily Freeman, UCEB Chairman Derek Spada disagreed with the decision. He added that the board would meet to discuss appealing Maloney’s victory.
“To some extent, public trust has been undermined by the decision, and that’s something the public should be concerned about,” Spada said in an interview with The Daily Freeman.
“My family and I have invested a lot of sleepless nights and resources into this awaited decision,’’ Maloney said in the Nov. 15 press release. “I’m emboldened now to finish my work and reform the Ethics Board, to ensure this never happens to anyone else.”