A Matter of Ethics

Despite reservations held by several City Council members, Deputy Mayor Peter Jovanovich is requesting the Board of Ethics once again review the matter of Mayor Doug French’s building violations at the 13 Richard Place residence he rents out, as well as the additional STAR exemption he received on the property for over a decade.

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Published January 26, 2012 6:28 AM
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jovthumbDespite reservations held by several City Council members, Deputy Mayor Peter Jovanovich is requesting the Board of Ethics once again review the matter of Mayor Doug French’s building violations at the 13 Richard Place residence he rents out, as well as the additional STAR exemption he received on the property for over a decade.

 

By Jim Byrne

 

Despite reservations held by several City Council members, Deputy Mayor Peter Jovanovich is requesting the Board of Ethics once again review the matter of Mayor Doug French’s building violations at the 13 Richard Place residence he rents out, as well as the additional STAR exemption he received on the property for over a decade.

 

jovThe Board of Ethics originally determined that the complaint, issued by Ray Tartaglione, did not have standing because the request – as per the Code of Ethics – did not come from a City employee or officer. But, in a letter to residents penned last week, Mayor French called on Councilman Jovanovich to refer the matter back to the Board of Ethics (BOE) to review whether or not any unethical behavior took place.

 

After discussing the subject with his fellow Council members leading up to their January 25 meeting, the Deputy Mayor wrote and submitted a pair of specific questions to the BOE. Since it does have the jurisdiction to render an opinion on events or actions that have already taken place, the BOE must answer the following: 1) Did Mayor French seek or receive preferential treatment by City employees in the granting of STAR exemptions for his properties at 13 Richard Place and 46 Meadow Place? 2) Did Mayor French seek or receive preferential treatment from City employees in the manner the City and its Building Department handled a complaint regarding a potential violation of the building code at 13 Richard Place?

 

A different question that came up time and again at the Council meeting, as stated best by its newest member, Laura Brett, was whether the BOE has an actual or apparent conflict of interest, or both, when it comes to the issue. City Manager Scott Pickup and Corporate Counsel Kristin Wilson had already recused themselves because they were named in the complaint – an actual conflict of interest. The remaining three members are former Mayor Ted Dunn and former Councilmembers Beth Griffin Matthews and Judge John Alfano. Mr. Dunn and Judge Alfano are both longtime members of the Rye Republican Party who donated money to Mayor French’s 2009 election campaign – a seemingly apparent conflict of interest.

 

Councilwoman Brett added that it ultimately boils down to the public’s confidence in the process.

 

Councilwoman Catherine Parker noted that the BOE is actually a one-person Board when you take into account the apparent and actual conflicts of interest, and said she’d like to see it expanded to include members of the public who have not served in office.

 

Earlier in the week, Councilman Joe Sack said he agreed with former Mayor and Judge John Carey’s call for an independent investigation. At the Council meeting he wondered whether the BOE may have “outsmarted themselves by hanging their hat on a technicality.”

 

Prefacing it by saying he had nothing but respect for Mr. Dunn and Judge Alfano, Councilman Sack added, “In the eyes of the public everything that has happened has created this critical mass, and I don’t if it would be the best thing to send back to them. Quite frankly, I don’t know what we’re sending to them. If they’re making a determination on ethics, they need to know what happened, and we don’t really know what the facts are.”

 

Citing a need to follow protocol, Councilwoman Suzanna Keith noted, “Right now the issue is taking up the City’s business while we need to spend time looking at financial and other matters. We need to put this to bed and get satisfaction with the system we have in place.”

 

Councilman Richard Filippi agreed, and was thankful the allegations were finally codified. “I don’t believe people in Rye think we’re up here conniving and cheating as part of some sort of conspiracy. That’s ridiculous, absolutely out of this world, and not the way Rye is. Let’s give it to the BOE and when they come back with their decision, let’s live with it so we can move on to pedestrian safety and minimizing taxes.”

tartagsAfter the Council was finished discussing the matter, Mr. Tartaglione cut right to the chase.

 

“I think the BOE did fumble the ball and I don’t think it should be given back to them,” he said. “I respect each and every one of them but find it hard to believe any one of my friends would make an unbiased judgment against me, especially if they tried to vote me into a political position.”

 

He added, “I think the whole thing from the beginning wasn’t handled right. If it was, I wouldn’t be here. If the laws were enforced like they should be on Hen Island I wouldn’t be here … the whole thing is getting crazy. I used to look at Rye as one of the best towns in the county, and now I can’t believe what’s going on. Some people blame me, but all I’m doing is bringing it to the public’s attention.

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