Monday, October 14, 2013

County Ethics Board Behaving Unethically

Report by Ken Dow

Taghkanic Town Board Member Debora Gilbert was recently the target of a politically-driven ethics complaint filed with the Columbia County Board of Ethics by two political adversaries—Taghkanic Supervisor Betty Young and Town Board Member Richard Skoda. I was her attorney.

The County Board of Ethics ultimately issued an Opinion that cleared Ms. Gilbert, finding no basis for most of the complaint. Nevertheless, the inquisition Ms. Gilbert had to endure, and the inappropriate insinuation, suggestion, and invasion of privacy that characterized the written Opinion of the County Board of Ethics, inflicted upon Ms. Gilbert undue stress, humiliation, and financial burden. She believes that if something good can come out of the fiasco, it will be to bring to light the way in which the County Board of Ethics can be an instrument for pernicious ends.

We discovered, first, that basic procedures of the Board of Ethics are done improperly. The Board ignored quorum requirements, claimed a scope of jurisdiction that it does not have, and acts in complete secrecy, in violation of the Public Officers Law.

More troubling was the Board’s hypocrisy. The Board chairman continually harped on “appearances” of conflict or bias, yet the Board relied, despite our strong objections, on counsel who is employed in both a county position and in private practice by a boss whom Ms. Gilbert was instrumental in replacing as attorney for Taghkanic.

More troubling, still, however, is how the Board’s written opinion—presumably drafted by the counsel we objected to—misconstrued and distorted the law to insinuate and suggest improper conduct where there was none.

At one point the Opinion asserted that a crucial state statute “specifically prohibits” an official’s participation where there is “the appearance” of a conflict of interest. This is false. The statute does not “specifically prohibit” actions where there is “the appearance” of a conflict;; in fact, the statute makes no mention of “appearances” at all.

The Opinion also claimed that a key provision in the Taghkanic Code says that a person must recuse herself when she “is reasonably believed” to have an interest in the outcome of a matter.

Again, this is completely untrue. The Code actually says, perfectly clearly, that recusal is required when acting may financially benefit the officer’s “spouse, minor children and dependents, and members of his or her household,” none of which applied.

There is more, and worse, but not enough room here to address it.

There is obviously a huge difference between being held responsible for what you do and for what someone thinks you have done. While appearances can be relevant at times, the Board of Ethics cited specific provisions of law, and then distorted language to claim that those laws say things that they do not. What is especially disturbing is that these misrepresentations in the Board’s Opinion aren’t omissions that might be attributed to oversight. They are statements that fabricate language that simply doesn’t exist. By distorting the law, the Opinion inappropriately cast Ms. Gilbert in a negative light even as the ultimate determination was one of exoneration.

We know that politics can be ugly. What Ms. Gilbert endured however, was the use of the County Ethics process as a device to cloak a political hit job under a veil of impartiality, a deceit which is uglier still.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Columbia County Democratic chairwoman, Cyndy Hall had this to say about the matter:

"The outright partisan behavior of Supervisor Betty Young and Town Board member Richard Skoda has been outrageous," said Ms. Hall. "To be still raking Ms. Gilbert over the coals after being exonerated is nothing short of cruel. They should be ashamed. After hearing chair of the County Board of Ethics chairman Richard Washburn speak at the last Taghkanic Town Board meeting, I am calling for a complete investigation of the Board of Ethics, their rules of operating and criteria for membership.This is not the way elected officials or any citizen should be treated by town or county government." 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sean Eldridge | Why I'm running

Sean Eldridge Announces Candidacy for Congress

Sean Eldridge
Sean Eldridge, the founder and president of business investment company Hudson River Ventures, has formally launched his bid for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 19th Congressional District.

Eldridge, 27, a Shokan resident and the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, launched his long-rumored campaign with a video on his website Sunday night September 22nd and issued a press release about his run on Monday. In the video, Eldridge talks about building his family, home and business in the Hudson Valley and how the area needs “an independent voice who will fight for us.”

Eldridge will will face Republican incumbent Chris Gibson in Congressional District NY-19 in the 2014 election.

See Sean's Website
Like Sean's Facebook Page
Read more: Daily Freeman and Register-Star

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Labor Endorses Columbia County Democratic Candidates

The Upper Hudson Central Labor Council has endorsed Mike Winnie for Columbia County Sheriff, Lee Jamison for Stuyvesant Supervisor and Taghkanic Town Councilman Lawrence Kadish for Taghkanic Town Supervisor.

In the City of Hudson, the Labor Council endorsed Victor Mendolia's campaign for Mayor along with eight other Hudson candidates. The chapter endorsed Don Moore in his bid to return as Common Council president, Supervisor William Hughes Jr in his reelection and six candidates for Alderman, incumbent David Marston in the 1st Ward, incumbent Abdus Miah and newcomers Tiffany Garriga in the 2nd Ward, Henry Haddad in the 3rd Ward, Alexis Keith in the 4th Ward, and Megan Carr in the 5th Ward.

 In other races, Landra Haber and Kandace Eaton were endorsed for Chatham Town Board.

The Labor Council announced the full slate of their endorsements at Harvest Spirits in Valatie on Wednesday September 18th The Council, which is part of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation represents thousands of Columbia County union members.

Read more in the Register-Star

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Martin Van Buren Awards Honors Columbia County Community Leaders.

Awardees and Presenters 
(l-r)  Victor Mendolia, Chief Jim Cesternino, Brenda Adams, Judy Rusk, Judy Grunberg,  Aaron Enfield,  Cyndy Hall
 and Peter Bujanow
Hudson, New York - A sold out crowd of Columbia County Democrats gathered at Club Helsinki to celebrate the 6th annual Martin Van Buren Awards Dinner. Each year the County Democratic Committee honors members of the committee and community for outstanding work which upholds the principles of the Democratic Party. 

The honorees this year are Brenda Adams, Democratic Chair for the Town of Canaan and Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity; Aaron Enfield was honored for his work on the Marriage Equality Act; Chief, Jim Cesternino accepted an award to the West Ghent Fire Company for service to the community and Judy Grunberg was honored for her many acts of community service and her generosity to Democrats.

All photos © Beth Schneck
Beth Schneck Photography

View the full photo album here

Friday, May 31, 2013

Mike Winnie for Columbia County Sheriff

Mike Winnie 
for Columbia County Sheriff

The Columbia County Democratic Committee has endorsed Mike Winnie to be the Party's candidate for Columbia County Sheriff.

Born and raised in Albany, NY and a Columbia County resident since 1982, Mike Winnie attended Albany Public Schools and graduated from Philip Schuyler High School. After enlisting in the US Army serving during the Vietnam War, Mike was honorably discharged with the rank of Specialist 5th class in 1972. He was hired as Deputy Sheriff with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department in 1973. Among other posts, he has previously served as Stockport Police Chief and a Columbia County Deputy Sheriff.

Mike Winnie resides in Stuyvesant with his wife Magaret. He has two daughters, Tonya (deceased) and Michelle, and an adopted son Walter, and foster son Rodney Curl. He also has three grandsons, Mark (15), Kaleb (10) and Ayden (3)

The Columbia County Democratic Committee is proud to endorse Mr. Winnie for Columbia County Sheriff.
Hudson Valley Community College
NYS Campus Peace Officer

Albany County Sheriff’s Department

Civil Enforcement Unit overseeing the duties of 5 deputies and 8 civilian personnel, including all court related mandates including Warrants of Eviction and Family Court Warrants of Arrest, both Adult & Juvenile.
Sergeant (Shift Supervisor) in charge of the law enforcement activity of 7 assigned deputies.
Conducted and oversaw preliminary criminal investigations
Accident Investigator and Traffic Safety Supervisor
Transportation & Security Detail
Airport Security Detail
Civil Enforcement Unit
Police Patrol Unit
Retired from the department in April 2000 after 27 years of service

Town of Stockport Police Department

Police Chief

Columbia County Sheriff's Department
Deputy Sheriff

Village of Chatham Police Department
Police Officer

Law Enforcement Training 

Zone 5 Law Enforcement School‘s Basic Course for Police Officers
New York State Course in Police Supervision
Public Safety Critical Incident Management
Basic & Advanced Motor Vehicle Crash Investigation
Motor Vehicle Crash Reconstruction
Impaired Driver Recognition, Interview & Interrogation Techniques
Criminal Investigation
Commercial Vehicle Enforcement
New York State Civil Law Practice & Procedures
Supervisory & Employee Ethics
Sexual Harassment Counseling & Discipline
Child Sexual Abuse Investigation
Legal Issues for Law Enforcement
Certified in Police Doppler Radar
Breath Analysis Operator
NYS Police Sex Offense Seminar

Awards and Honors

Volunteer of the Year Award - Presented by Albany County Executive for work with underprivileged children and families located in the Hill towns of Albany County during Christmas seasons.
Certificates of Appreciation from NYS Senate & Assembly for participation in the Annual Summer Safe Kids Program.

Capital District Fraternal Order of Police
Tri County Council Viet Nam Era Veterans
Vietnam Veterans of America
American Legion Post 47, Valatie NY
TriVillage Gun Club, Valatie NY

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Join Us For the 6th Annual Martin Van Buren Testimonial Dinner

Join us for our biggest event of the year 
at Helsinki Hudson.

As we honor
Brenda Adams, Aaron Enfield, Judy Grunberg and the
West Ghent Firefighters, Jim Cesternino Chief

for their exemplary service to the community.

Cocktails, Dinner, Awards, Silent and Live Auction

Purchase tickets at
$50 per person

Tickets may also be purchased by mail.
Indicate your name and the number of tickets and mail a check to:
Columbia County Democratic Committee, P.O. Box 507, Ghent, NY 12075.

Join the event on Facebook

For questions or to reserve tickets, please contact Deb Shakotko at

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Congratulations to Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk

The Columbia County Democratic Committee congratulates Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk and the people of our neighboring counties for her win in a district which Senate Republicans drew specifically for her opponent. The 46th State Senate District, which covers Albany, Greene, Montgomery, Schenectady and Ulster counties will now be represented by a Democratic Senator who supports campaign finance reform including public financing of campaigns, a woman's right to choose and a moratorium on "fracking".
Columbia County Democrats welcome Senator Tkaczyk to the New York State Senate!