More than a month after the Cicero Board of Ethics came to a conclusion about the conflict of interest created by Supervisor Jessica Zambrano’s relationship with former town engineer Doug Wickman, the town board has taken action on the ethics board’s opinion.
“The town board sought legal opinions and understands that we do not have authority to take punitive action with regard to the opinion,” Councilor Mark Venesky read from his amendment to the evening’s agenda. “However, we note that this board acted to cure any potential perception of impropriety last October when we voted to terminate the town’s contract with C&S Engineers.”
Venesky moved three resolutions concerning the ethics ruling at the Jan. 14 meeting:
All were recommendations made within the board of ethics’ decision.
Zambrano objected to the first resolution because she wanted to include her and her attorney’s responses to the ethics investigation in the materials that will be sent to the state.
“That report was not entirely accurate and I think that my response should be provided as a professional courtesy to me,” Zambrano said.
Her fellow town board members disagreed.
“I think that they should remain separate,” Venesky said, adding that Zambrano and her lawyer could send their responses to the state independently of the town.
Councilor Tim Burtis agreed that it would be a professional courtesy to Zambrano to include her response, but added, “I don’t see how it’s totally necessary.”
Councilor Mike Becallo questioned whether the town board ever officially referred the matter to the ethics board. Venesky replied that the ethics board based its authority to examine the ethics complaint on a town board resolution from April 2014.
Venesky, Burtis and Councilor Vern Conway voted to send the ethics board’s findings to the state. Zambrano voted no and Becallo chose to abstain.
“What’s being referred [to the state] is incomplete,” Zambrano said.
“This whole thing is one big conflict of interest after another,” Becallo said.
The board voted to amend the ethics code’s definition of family to include “spouse, domestic partner and/or any other dependent members of the household.”
The board also approved the resolution regarding a mandatory ethics seminar for elected and appointed town officials.
Venesky said the seminar could be a computer-based training or a training session at town hall. Zambrano said determining the method for administering the seminar was a separate matter from actually approving the idea of the seminar itself.
During the public comment period, Cicero resident Deborah Gardner asked the town board, “Who trained the board of ethics?”
Zambrano said Venesky had arranged for Kathy Barany, a human services consultant whose services the town has employed before, to hold a training session with the ethics board.
“We have a very talented, educated group of folks,” Venesky said of the ethics board members.
He said two or three of the members had “formal ethics training,” but Gardner said they were not qualified to be on the ethics board.
Board of Ethics member Bob Tomeny addressed the town board next. He said Barany had set up a meeting with the board, but it never happened.
“She canceled out because I think she thought it was some kind of a conflict,” Tomeny said. “It was fine and we went ahead with our duties. We had absolutely no kind of guidelines to work with.”
Tomeny, a former Onondaga County legislator, said the ethics board researched other towns’ ethics guidelines to create their own rules of operation. Zambrano said these regulations should have gone to Town Clerk Tracy Cosilmon and asked if Cosilmon had posted the ethics board’s bylaws on the town’s website.
“I haven’t had any guidance on any of this,” Cosilmon said.
Tomeny said the bylaws are public information. He added that the ethics board suggested it should meet at least once a year and that town officials should file a financial disclosure report.
Bob Smith, chair of the planning board, told the town board that they had not addressed an “obvious violation of ethics”: the release of the ethics board’s advisory opinion to local media, including The Star-Review.
“Somebody — one of you or one of the ethics board — released privileged information. That is official misconduct. That isn’t just ‘oh, maybe it’s an ethics violation’ — it’s a criminal act,” Smith said.
Venesky said the matter had been referred to the Cicero Police Department.
“The police department works for you,” Smith said.
Venesky said he had been deposed by the police, as had others.
“They work for all of us,” Venesky said.
Officer John Baldini of the CPD said the investigation would not be “tailored” to the town board’s favor.
“This is an impartial, thorough investigation,” Baldini said.
Burtis said he was the only board member to publicly say that he had not leaked the document to the press. Tomeny said he did not release the opinion either and that he expected the police to interview him soon.
Highway roof woes
The town board discussed repairs to the roof of the highway department. The roof has issues with leakage, heat loss and ice buildup.
Town Engineer Steve Snell said a “retrofitting” of the existing roof to improve insulation and install a rubber outer roof would cost between $100,000 and $120,000. A total roof replacement would cost $200,000.
Zambrano said she wanted to include a warranty for at least 10 years in the request for proposal.
Snell said engineering firm O’Brien and Gere would not charge the town for an RFP, which he expects to have by the next town board meeting Jan. 28.
Zambrano said the town board should develop a long-term plan for a building replacement schedule for the highway department, the police station and the town hall.
Brewerton Revitalization Project
Parks and Recreation Director Jody Rogers presented on the progress of the Brewerton Revitalization Project. She said a new concrete face has been installed on the pier in addition to new lighting fixtures and three access points for people who use wheelchairs or strollers.
Rogers said work was halted for the winter around Dec. 28 but will pick up again in the spring.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a groundbreaking in the spring and be ready for boat season,” she said.
Zambrano said the town is still working to acquire two properties on Bennett Street for the project.
Becallo said he will present a check to the Brewerton Revitalization Project at an upcoming meeting of the board. Last year, Becallo promised to donate his salary increase of $1,250 to the project.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.