NORWICH – In a rare move, Chenango County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard B. Decker, R-N. Norwich, called for a motion before the full board on Monday that would expedite the creation of an ethics commission.
The county’s ethics law is dated 1990, and in order to update it, Safety & Rules Committee Chairman Janice O’Shea was poised to take up the matter at a meeting this month.
While the county is currently being audited by the New York State Comptroller’s Office due to an “ethics oversight,” Decker has repeatedly said it did not concern any issue before the board and was “routine.”
However, Decker’s suggested list came following a nearly 40-minute executive session prompted by a request from Natural Gas Committee Chairman Peter C. Flanagan to discuss “offers on county land.” While the particulars of the discussion were kept private, Flanagan has informed members of his committee and the Ag, Buildings and Grounds Committee that Norse Energy Inc. would be making a compulsory integration or leasing offer for a pipeline easement on county-owned land at Preston Manor. The gas committee has proposed changing a current county law that, they say, prohibits taxpayers from taking advantage of a source of income.
The board chairman came prepared with a list of three names, two from the county’s business community and one representing the board. He also directed the Safety and Rules Committee to return in a month with a recommendation concerning the hiring of the county’s appointed natural gas consultant.
The consultant, Preston businessman Steven Palmatier, was officially appointed in September; however controversy surrounding his personal relationship with the natural gas company Norse Energy Inc. have impeded a contract resolution between his own counsel and Chenango County Attorney Richard E. Breslin. At issue appears to be specific wording in the contract that would prohibit Palmatier from talking to energy companies or pipeline developers in the scope of his duties.
Decker’s list was in response to one offered and put into a motion by Town of Smyrna Supervisor James Bays. The Smyrna supervisor offered five names of individuals whom he thought should be contacted to serve, and made a motion to form a temporary commission that would expedite the consultant’s hiring.
“We’ve been waiting on Rich forever,” Bays said, referring to county attorney Richard Breslin. “We’ve needed an ethics committee for five years. We need to create a temporary commission to expedite and resolve the issues dealing with the official hiring of our consultant. We need to do this at the board level now, not through committee, and remove the county attorney from this matter,” he said.
Bays’ motion died for lack of a second.
Oxford Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox moved Decker’s motion. It was seconded by Pharsalia Supervisor Dennis Brown. During discussion, Brown supported the committee system process and pointed out that the county’s attorney “can’t be circumvented” in the process.
“Whatever the ethics committee decides comes back here to the board,” said Brown.
Supervisor Flanagan asked the county’s attorney to define the commission’s responsibility. Breslin said it makes recommendations only.
“Ultimately, the board has the authority to make the decision,” said Breslin.
Prior to the vote, Safety and Rules Committee Chairman Janice O’Shea and City of Norwich Supervisor Linda E. Natoli suggested not limiting the commission to three individuals, and combining Bay’s and Decker’s names to form it. Breslin said only three were needed to form the commission.
Town of New Berlin Supervisor Ross Iannello, who supported Decker’s suggestion and the motion on the floor, said Safety & Rules Committee should address the issue “immediately.”..