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Friday, February 26, 2021

Top Stories > General

Future of Ethics Board up in the air

Feb 22, 2021

By Isabel Braverman - staff writer

By: JOSEPH ABRAHAM | DEMOCRAT
Sullivan County Legislator Luis Alvarez, seen here at a previous meeting, was the subject of an ethics complaint that was brought up in talks about
MONTICELLO - The ethics charge against Legislator Luis Alvarez was once again rehashed at a public meeting.
At the county legislature's Executive Committee meeting last Thursday, Chairman of the County Ethics Board, John Kiefer, appeared before the board in order to “address some misconceptions” about the special meeting regarding the Alvarez charge on January 28.
Kiefer said comments from some of the legislators during that meeting rebuked members of the Ethics Board, none of whom were present.
“It degenerated to an indictment of the Ethics Board,” he said, adding that he received “confrontational” calls from members of the public about the case.
“It was our job to evaluate the evidence, come to a conclusion and make a recommendation,” Kiefer said to legislators. “That was the evidence you had in front of you, and if you feel that's insufficient why wouldn't you disband this board and conduct the interviews yourself?”
He said one former member of the board was at the meeting who was recused and “no one asked him why.

It was confirmed to the Democrat that that person was Kenneth Walter who only said he recused himself because he was asked to.
In addition, Kiefer said one member resigned over the incident. It was confirmed that that person was Lorne Green, the county's Commissioner of the Division of Information Technology Services.
The ethics case involved two charges against Alvarez, one saying that he used his position as then Chairman of the Legislature to have a computer installed at the Care Center at Sunset Lake, where his wife was a resident, which was dismissed.
The other charge stemmed from an interaction with a county employee, now known to be former Commissioner of Health and Family Services Stephanie Brown, in which Alvarez was “rude,” according to the complaint.
The interaction was over the care of Alvarez's wife Ida at the Care Center. She had fallen four different times, requiring stitches in her head, and contracted COVID-19 and was transported to the hospital without Alvarez being informed.
He later removed his wife from the Care Center and she is living at home.
The Ethics Board had recommended that Alvarez complete anger management training, but the legislators decided to take no action.
Alvarez said he didn't appreciate the case being brought up again, and said he still has received no answers about his wife's care.
“You went after me and forgot about my wife. That isn't right,” he said.
When news of the complaint became public, Legislature Chairman Rob Doherty issued a statement that said Alvarez called the employee a “c***” in a “profanity-laced tirade.”
Whether or not Alvarez used that language became a central debate and Legislator Nadia Rajsz asked Kiefer if it was included in the ethics complaint.
“The c word was something that I'm unaware of, I heard about that from the public domain, I have no idea where it came from,” he responded.
“So that is not at issue?” Rajsz asked.
“No, what was at issue was that the defendant admitted to using vulgar language in the hearing,” Kiefer said.
He and Rajsz were cut off when County Attorney Michael McGuire and Deputy County Attorney Thomas Cawley advised that they not discuss the details of the case.
“I wanted this to be public, because January 28 was public,” Kiefer said.
Doherty said he took four anger management classes that were over an hour and said everyone on the board and maybe department heads should also take the classes.
Legislator Ira Steingart said when he was considering his decision in terms of the ethics charge, he felt that Alvarez was acting as a husband and not using his influence as a legislator.
“I certainly didn't want to send the message to county employees that it's ok to speak to them that way,” Steingart said. “But I also felt that when you become an elected official it doesn't mean you give your rights up as an individual.”
Legislator Alan Sorensen said public officials should be held to a higher standard when conducting themselves.
“I have always held myself to a higher standard, I've been verbally abused at meetings and I never lost my cool. I always said to myself, I'm representing the public, and in the same sense I try to treat people with respect,” he said.
If the county should have its own ethics board was examined. At a previous meeting, Steingart said they could instead defer to the state.
On Thursday the legislature passed a resolution approving changes to the county's ethics law.
Kiefer said he and others had worked on the proposed changes over two years ago but the previous legislature took no action on it.
The legislators agreed that they would review both the ethics law and the board.

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