Ulster County is the only county in New York that passes Safety Net costs onto its municipalities. Provenzano said she finds it “incredible” that the legislature is spending so much time talking about listing the costs in the town’s tax bills, when “we should be fighting to change it.”Tax bill aside, there's no doubt that this is nothing more than a stunt designed to garner headlines to make those involved (that is, the Bernardos/Independence Party) look good in the eyes of the taxpayers. Robin Yess agrees:
It’s a publicity stunt by Bernardo, Maloney, Quigley and Chipman – and to say what? “Oh, here you go taxpayers, we worked very hard to make sure all of these expenses are itemized on your tax bill.”Is it any wonder that this thing lacks substance, Robin? Look at who the architects are.
As for Maloney, Provenzano isn't the only person to think his elective office as county legislator is incompatible with his appointed position as assessor for the Town of Ulster. John Parete, some will remember, sued Maloney in state court over this a few years back:
Mugglin, J. Appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court (Bradley, J.), entered July 15, 2004 in Ulster County, which granted petitioner's application, in a combined proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78 and action for declaratory judgment, to direct respondent to resign from either his position as Ulster County Legislator or his position as Town Assessor for the Town of Ulster.If I'm parsing the legalese correctly, the first court ruled in Parete's favor, but the appellate court overturned the initial ruling because Parete didn't have standing to bring the case. The appellate court also appears to say that it would have ruled against Parete, even if he had legal standing.
In this combined proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78 and action for declaratory judgment, petitioner seeks a judgment requiring respondent to immediately resign from either his elected position of Ulster County Legislator or his appointed position of Town Assessor for the Town of Ulster, claiming that the two positions are incompatible and cannot be simultaneously held by one individual. Further, petitioner seeks a judgment requiring respondent to return—to either the Town or the County—all compensation received by him from the time he began holding both positions until his resignation from one of them and, if he fails to immediately resign from one of the positions, that his current position as Town Assessor be declared vacant. After holding that petitioner had standing to bring this proceeding and that the Town and County are not necessary parties thereto, Supreme Court ruled that the appointed office of Town Assessor and the elected office of County Legislator are incompatible and may not simultaneously be held by respondent. As a result, the court granted petitioner's application and ordered respondent to resign from one of the positions. Respondent appeals.
Petitioner concedes that he did not plead or prove standing pursuant to statute (see [*2]General Municipal Law § 51; Matter of Dykeman v Symonds, 54 AD2d 159, 162 ). Nevertheless, he argues that, as Supreme Court found, he has common-law standing to maintain this proceeding. However, petitioner does not qualify for "Common-Law Taxpayer Standing" (Matter of Colella v Board of Assessors of County of Nassau, 95 NY2d 401, 410 ) as no impenetrable barrier to judicial scrutiny exists (see O'Malley v Macejka, 44 NY2d 530 ). Moreover, were we to reach the merits, we would find that petitioner has not compellingly distinguished O'Malley v Macejka (supra), which holds that these two positions are not incompatible. As such, the judgment must be reversed.
But James D. Cole, writing for Municipal Lawyer magazine (PDF), suggests that someone in Maloney's position should at the very least recuse himself on any issue that might overlap with his duties in the Town of Ulster:
In some instances, it is foreseeable that the holding of two positions will result in conflicts of duties, but they are neither numerous nor significant. In other instances, conflicts may not be inevitable. In these situations, recusal is an appropriate remedy.In other words, Provenzano and Yess are right to be concerned, as should be the tax payers of Ulster County. It doesn't make sense for Maloney to head the committee, given the potential conflicts of interests with his day job.
And this whole thing could turn from silly to ugly very quickly if more municipalities start in with these safety net shenanigans.
And of course Chipman and Quigley are the two town supervisors in Ulster County who didn't budget for safety net payments to the county this year, as Yess points out. Sigh. It's enough to put you off your dinner.