According to a Cicero resident, Supervisor Jessica Zambrano has committed misconduct as a result of her relationship with the town engineer.
Robert George, an attorney who lives on Lakeshore Road, brought a complaint against the supervisor at the Cicero Town Board’s April 9 meeting. George stated that Zambrano’s romantic relationship with Douglas Wickman, the senior principal for C&S Engineering and town engineer for the town of Cicero, constitutes a conflict of interest. The two have been romantically involved since 2011 and share a residence within the town.
Below is the text of Robert George’s remarks to the Cicero Town Board, given Wednesday, April 9.
My name is Robert George. I am a resident of the town of Cicero, and my entire comments herein are based upon information and belief, which I believe to be true.
I am here tonight to make known to the Cicero Town Board, and to file an ethics complaint against, a Cicero Town employee who I believe has engaged in various conflicts of interest, misuse of power, improper, unethical, and possibly illegal conduct, in the discharge of their governmental duties. That this conduct has been known by so many for so long, with nothing being done to stop it, shocks the conscience.
I am therefore filing an ethics complaint against, asking the Cicero Town Board to conduct an investigation into, and requesting the immediate resignation of Jessica Zambrano, Cicero Town Supervisor, including but not necessarily limited to, the following allegations:
Ms. Zambrano is and has been, for some time, involved in a romantic, personal, intimate, and financial relationship with Douglas Wickman, who is senior principal of the Cicero town engineer, C&S Companies; Ms. Zambrano is and has been physically living with Douglas Wickman; and Ms. Zambrano is a co-owner with Douglas Wickman of the house where they currently live together as domestic-partners, 7121 Totman Drive in Cicero.
Despite Ms. Zambrano’s romantic, personal, intimate, and financial relationship with Douglas Wickman, and Douglas Wickman being senior principal of C&S Companies, as Cicero town supervisor, Ms. Zambrano has:
a. personally voted to select C&S Companies as the Cicero town engineer.
b. personally signed the contract designating C&S Companies as the Engineering firm representing the Town of Cicero.
c. personally signed several contracts with C&S Companies.
d. personally signed contracts submitted to the town of Cicero by Douglas Wickman, which were also personally signed by Douglas Wickman.
e. personally approved and signed invoices and bills for services performed by C&S Companies, submitted by Douglas Wickman, which were also personally signed by Douglas Wickman.
f. personally signed checks payable to C&S Companies for work billed by Douglas Wickman.
I believe that Ms. Zambrano’s conduct violates Article 18 of the New York State Municipal Law and the Town of Cicero Code of Ethics, both of which are misdemeanors, and also violates Section 36 of the NYS Public Officers Law.
I therefore ask the Cicero Town Board to immediately begin an investigation into all actions of Ms. Zambrano, not only since she has been supervisor, but even prior, when she was a town councilor and deputy supervisor; and to investigate Mr. Wickman and C&S Companies; and to retain independent legal counsel and a forensic accountant in doing so.
In addition, as the engineering firm for the town of Cicero, C&S Companies has a duty to be an unbiased and independent advisor and provider of services to Cicero. I believe this duty is compromised when the senior principal of C&S Companies is an active participant as town engineer, and simultaneously the domestic-partner of the town supervisor; and this conduct is not only an appearance of a conflict of interest, but is an actual conflict of interest. As residents and taxpayers of Cicero, how do we know whether the town engineer, via Mr. Wickman, is representing the town of Cicero’s interest, or instead his domestic-partner’s personal agenda?
As supervisor, Ms. Zambrano has a duty to protect the interests of the town of Cicero. As residents and taxpayers of Cicero, how do we know whether Ms. Zambrano is representing the town of Cicero’s interest solely, or instead is failing to properly monitor her domestic-partner’s activities as town engineer? One may even validly ask whether C&S Companies was selected as the town engineer because of Ms. Zambrano’s personal relationship with Mr. Wickman.
Of equal concern is the issue of invoices submitted to Cicero by Mr. Wickman, and checks signed by Ms. Zambrano, to C&S Companies, for work Mr. Wickman has claimed to do. Given the personal relationship between Ms. Zambrano and Mr. Wickman — a boyfriend submitting invoices, and checks being signed by his girlfriend — it is legitimate to inquire whether sufficient oversight and review of these invoices occurs, and to question whether this conduct is proper.
And I believe that with town moneys being paid to C&S Companies, Ms. Zambrano obtains a “direct or indirect pecuniary or material benefit as a result of the town contract,” through moneys paid by C&S Companies to her live-in domestic partner, Mr. Wickman.
The NYS Attorney General has “emphasized that public officials should avoid circumstances which compromise their ability to make impartial judgments solely in the public interest,” and that “even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided in order to maintain public confidence in government.”
Public officials, especially elected public officials, are held to a higher standard of conduct, and rightly so, because they hold the “public trust.” I believe Ms. Zambrano’s actions “violate the spirit and intent of these ethics laws, are inconsistent with public policy, and suggest self-interest, partiality, or economic impropriety.”
In closing, what I have stated here tonight only scratches the surface, and is just the beginning. I intend to begin filing FOIL requests with the Cicero Town Clerk to obtain further documentation of not only these allegations, but also other possible misconduct by Ms. Zambrano in addition to her relationship with Mr. Wickman, and to file all allegations and supporting documents with the appropriate government agencies.
“During last year’s campaign, the issue was raised, but Doug Wickman said he no longer worked at C&S. He said he was retired,” George said. “However, after Jessica Zambrano was sworn in, people suspected he still did [work for the town]. He was meeting town officials at his office.”
George said he took it upon himself to look into the matter.
“I conducted a normal investigation on the town’s website and I found their engineering agreements, one of which was submitted and signed by Doug Wickman as principal,” he said. “I also found one of the prior agreements, with Jessica as supervisor, and his name is listed as senior principal.”
George is referring to the town’s Highway Engineering Agreement, available on the town’s website, ciceronewyork.net. Wickman’s name is listed on page 4 as senior principal engineer at a rate of $138 per hour. The agreement is dated Jan. 3, 2014. Wickman also signed a letter dated Feb. 13, 2014, regarding an engineering agreement for sanitary sewer maintenance, improvement and emergency repair. In addition, George said he found an invoice for services performed, submitted by Wickman and approved by Zambrano.
George said the relationship between the two constitutes a conflict of interest, as Zambrano is benefiting from contracts she has signed.
“I’ve done some research into municipal law and Cicero’s code of ethics, and I think this is the definition of a conflict of interest,” he said. “It’s apparent to me that, because they live together in a house they co-own, any money he gets through his work makes its way from C&S into the household to her indirect benefit. She benefits from monies given through town contract, and she has signing privilege, too.
“And it’s not just the money,” George added. “You have to wonder if C&S got the contract [to provide engineering for the town) unfairly. There are a whole host of other aspects raised in this issue.”
Zambrano denied any wrongdoing, stating that she has already been absolved in the matter by a previous investigation.
“When I first realized my relationship with Doug was becoming more than casual, I asked our town attorney for an opinion of whether or not my situation would be a conflict of interest,” Zambrano said. “He reviewed the criteria for conflict of interest and researched the matter with other attorneys. The conclusion was that there is no conflict of interest because there is no direct or indirect financial benefit to me or to Doug. This conflict of interest allegation was raised with the District Attorney’s Office last year when I was running for office as supervisor. The DA’s office also found no conflict of interest. If there were to be a conflict, I would have abstained from any votes regarding the company at which Doug works on a part-time basis.”
Zambrano blamed political opponents conducting a smear campaign.
“The current complaint is nothing more than typical political nonsense that unfortunately occurs far too often these days,” she said.
Despite Zambrano’s denials, the town board will likely be requesting an investigation.
“As elected town officials, we have the great responsibility of upholding and safeguarding the public trust,” said Town Councilor Mike Becallo. “This is something that individual members of the board and the board, collectively, must achieve. That’s the promise we made to the public when we ran for office. Accusations like the ones made by Mr. George should not go unaddressed, and it’s something that the town will look into.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.