The Albany County Legislature defeated a resolution last Monday (June 12) that would have prevented relatives of elected officials from being hired to work for the county. The resolution would have also prohibited former county officials from being hired to work for the county.
Both relatives and former officials would be prohibited for a period of four years. The resolution would not have impacted Civil Service positions, or current legislators and their family members.
Latham Legislator David Mayo initially introduced the legislation in Jan. 2016 and was “hopeful, not optimistic” that it would be supported.
“It’s now a year and a half later and no one came to me with any amendments, which I would have been open to,” Mayo said to The Alt. “But now people say they want to support the resolution, but don’t like the language and want changes to be made. I think people just didn’t want to go against the grain.”
Mayo said that the resolution was not politically motivated, but was a result of defects he saw in the system. “I introduced the resolution initially because I felt it was wrong that a county legislator can run for reelection and lose, but still have the ability to vote on the budget for that upcoming year.”
While Albany legislators voted, 25-13, against the anti-nepotism resolution, Mayo said that if this were a vote by the public, “close to 100 percent” would support it. “I think we should do what the constituents want,” Mayo said. “I have been petitioning in the district, going door-to-door, and I haven’t heard one negative comment about the resolution. I’m happy about that. It makes me feel justified.”
Albany Legislator Chris Higgins supported the resolution and is disappointed that it did not pass. “I believe it is good public policy to put a proposal like that in the charter,” Higgins told The Alt. “It is about government transparency and making sure the public has the utmost faith in the work that we do.”
Moving forward, Mayo plans to condense the resolution and alter its language. “Changing the exclusion period of former legislators and family members to one year was mentioned and I might go that route,” Mayo said, as he attempts to make the resolution “more pliable” to people.
The Alt reached out to a number of legislators who voted against the resolution. Some could not be reached for comment such as Albany Legislator Norma Chapman and Knox Legislator Travis Stevens. A few others declined to comment, including Majority Leader Hon. Frank Commisso Sr., whose communications director Dennis Yusko directed The Alt to a video of the committee meeting. “Majority Leader Commisso stated at the Monday meeting that Albany County’s Ethics Law is among the most stringent in the state and contains multiple sections in which nepotism is not only addressed and prohibited, but severely disciplined (unlike the Mayo proposal),” Yusko said in an email.
Here is why legislators voted against the resolution:
Albany Legislator William Clay: “I don’t think the resolution is needed. We have strong ethics laws that cover most of what this bill is trying to prevent. I am not for nepotism and if the bill was amended, I would have voted for it. But we should not discriminate against family members. Why should there be a law that says my grandson can’t work because his last name is Clay? That is discrimination. If they are not qualified, they should not have the position. But if they are qualified, they should not be prevented from having the job.”
Latham Legislator Todd Drake: “I was going to vote for the resolution but no amendment was made to make the legislation appropriate. My biggest concern with it is that someone who comes to work for the county should not be discriminated against because they are related to someone.
“I think the point is that we don’t want people playing games and ignoring other candidates in order to hire and find jobs for family members. But I don’t believe in dealing with one form of discrimination by using another. You can agree with the concept but want better legislation for it. This bill was not for free or effective government, but we can fix that and I think it will be fixed soon.”
Guilderland Legislator Dennis Feeney: “The main reason I did not vote for the resolution is because it is unfair to the legislatures that are leaving and the four-year ban is too long. Also, everything else in this legislation is covered by our ethics laws already.”
Albany Legislator Samuel Fein: “I have respect for those that approved the bill, but I think it was too restrictive. There are lots of qualified people who are family members. Former elected county officials have a lot of experience and knowledge as well that could benefit us, and the four-year ban is too long.”
“I would like to see a revised version of the bill,” Fein continued. “I think the real purpose of this legislation is to make sure we are getting the best people for the job and to make sure people aren’t getting jobs through favoritism and familial relationships. That is a good cause, but I don’t want to rule anyone out that is qualified.”
Albany Legislator Andrew Joyce: “I did not support the resolution because it was not an anti-nepotism bill, it was an anti-Shawn Morse bill. The bill was not about a policy or nepotism, it was political and about targeting an individual. The county already has a strong ethics commission and if people have an issue with someone that is hired, they can issue a complaint. This legislation was a dog whistle to me. It was targeting a person and I don’t agree with that. Also, similar to how families throughout the years are drawn to plumbing, carpentry, and other jobs, some families are drawn to public service. My family has been in public service for years. It’s just what we are drawn to and are passionate about.”
Albany Legislator Paul Miller: “These provisions would not have let someone run in the county. I think that rather than discriminate against all family members, people with familial relationships that are trying to work for the county should go before the legislature, hold a public forum, and vote.”
Shawn Morse: “I am not a fan of saying someone’s family member can’t be employed in the government because they are related to someone. I think that’s actually ridiculous. People get elected for a reason. There is a civil service system in place that gives people the right to apply for jobs. I think this was all a political stunt. What we should do is look at those people who supported this legislation. They have been in the legislature for 15 years and have done nothing. That should be the crime.”
Controversy erupted after some saw a part-time position created by Albany Comptroller Michael Conners as been having designed for Morse. Both Morse and Conners denied the accusation. Funds for the position were eventually moved elsewhere.