The Ulster County (UC) Ethics Board’s decision to fine freshman legislator Joseph Maloney for infractions has caused a stir among county leaders.
On Dec. 31, the board concluded that Maloney had violated Ulster Ethics Laws and fined him $7,000—half of his annual salary—and recommended a three-month suspension without pay. This marks the first instance in memory that an Ulster legislator was fined for ethics violations.
The Ethics Board wrote in a nine-page decision that Maloney is “either unwilling or unable to differentiate between ethical and unethical conduct.”
“This was a political hit-job and character assassination,” Maloney said.
The ruling refers to several legislative actions involving Maloney over the past year.
The bulk of his fines ($6,000) are a result of a Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) contract voted for approval twice during March of 2018. Since the contract would impact the salary of his wife who works as an auditor for the Ulster County Comptroller, the board felt the decision carried a conflict of interest.
“A county legislator should recuse himself or herself from taking any actions with respect to the salary and terms and conditions of employment for his or her spouse, child or sibling,” the Ethics Board said in their decision letter.
The decision also explains that Maloney was fined another $1,000 for arguing that the comptroller’s office should restore funding for the office to hire a confidential attorney. Board members felt this was a conflict of interest because the secretary would benefit Maloney’s wife by assisting with office tasks. Maloney claims the position was initially removed as a political punishment.
The ethics board did offer to waive Maloney of his fines if he decided to step down from his position by Jan. 10. However, he did not.
“It is unheard of and outside of [the board’s] ability to pressure a legislator and hold his salary above his head,” Maloney said.
Maloney wasn’t the only person unhappy with the decision. According to Maloney, many of his colleagues were shocked and frustrated by the board’s ruling. Constituents like Ulster County Legislature Vice Chair David B. Donaldson and even New York State Conservative of Party Ulster County John J. Hayes sent letters to state officials voicing their concerns.
Donaldson, a 26-year UC legislature veteran, noted how the CSEA contract Maloney had voted on pertained to roughly 1,000 other county employees, not just Maloney’s wife. He argued that the legislator has no say in the negotiation, and that voting on these contracts is simply part of the job.
Additionally, Donaldson attended the meeting where Maloney was fined over the comptroller’s secretary debate, and thought the ruling was an overreaction for merely stating his opinion. He also took issue with the ethics board’s resignation offer to void Maloney’s fines.
“In other words, they’re trying to overturn an election which is unethical on its face,” Donaldson said.
In his short time in office, Maloney has been known to stir the political pot and for his criticism of former County Executive Mike Hein (who’s now headed for Albany). Since all members of the board are appointed directly by Hein, Maloney felt that the decision was a political power move. Maloney was also concerned by the fact that the district attorney, who initially wrote the complaint, chose to abstain from involvement in the trial.
“If you’re admitting that you have a conflict of interest, [and can’t participate in the trial], how can you draw up the complaint in the first place?” Maloney said.
While a number of his proposed legislation has ruffled feathers, Maloney tracks his current predicament back to when he tried to change the way the UC Ethics Board members are appointed. He claims that, soon after, he received personal summons at his business for the charges he currently faces. Maloney believes the proposed legislation incited the charges rather than actual ethics violations.
Maloney expressed his intentions to appeal the decision under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law to try and have it overturned. He is confident that the case will be thrown out.
The Ulster County Ethics Board was unable to be reached for comment in time for print.
According to Maloney, he met with the UC legislature on Feb. 13, to request creating a special sub-committee to investigate his allegations of misconduct within the Ulster County government.