Dresden has ethics problem, clerk says

Dresden has ethics problem, clerk says

Town clerk Marcinda Wilbur told the Dresden Town Board at its November meeting how important it is that the board understands it is their legal obligation to uphold its codes, policies and procedures and said it appears the board has not adhered to its code of ethics.

Wilbur said the board adopts the policies and procedures first thing every year, but she also knows no one has a copy of those policies.

“The number one resolution we pass in this town every single year, as long as the 13 years I have been here, is to adhere to these policies and procedures of the town and we adopt that resolution every single year,” she said. “However, I recognize that nobody has a copy of the policies and procedures.”

The code of ethics might be adopted every year by the town, Wilbur said, but there isn’t proper documentation of the ethics since she joined in 2008. The board has been signing a document they have never actually seen, she said.

“The first thing we pass every year as a board is to abide by the policies and the procedures of the town set forth until amended. If nobody saw it, how can we vote on something we’ve never seen,” she asked.

Wilbur also stressed the importance of discussing ethics among the board because of a possible conflict of interest in the highway garage.

“This is especially imperative at this time because we have a board member whose father and brother work on the town road crew. So, there are some conditions for recusal that he’s going to have to do because as a member of the governing board over the highway department, he can’t have any say because he obviously has an interest,” she said.

Wilbur wanted to show the board what other towns do for their code of ethics as well as what their policies and procedures are. She gave board members a copy of a nine-page code of ethics for local governments, taken from the state’s website.

The reason for the town’s review of ethics codes, as well as policies and procedures, is due to the bidding process for the pavilion to be installed next spring at Chubb’s Dock, she said.

Ferguson had collected only two bids, one from Queensbury and one from Shed Stop in Fort Ann, where he has a relative who could give the town a discount. Wilbur highlighted the town law, article 18, and talked about how that law affects the town highway department as well as the bidding process for Chubb’s Dock.

“But at the same time, included in these codes of ethics, is town law article 18 of the general municipal law, (which) prohibits the officer employed with the municipality from having certain conflicts of interest.

“I brought up during last month’s meeting that Supervisor Ferguson had secured himself a purchase using a relative for the town to save the town money and my interpretation of the code of ethics is that’s a violation to be using a relative for expenditure of town money and that he did not get three quotes,” she said.

Wilbur reiterated that what the town has been doing is illegal and the board needs to work on getting the issue squared away so they are operating in a legal manner as a town. She said she believes that even though it might have been working for them, they still need to follow the laws of town board operations.

“This is not a suggestion, this is town law and to do it any other way other than town law is a violation, it’s illegal. Just because it’s been done that way for however many years doesn’t make it right,” she said.

According to Wilbur, the 2012 supervisor updated the policies on how to accept bids for projects in the town based on the amount due when purchased. She explained that it almost is a tiered system by the increasing price of whatever the purchase might be.

“The supervisor at the time updated the amounts because they were so outdated. You know the idea of goods and services and the procedures as to what is necessary if you are looking for goods or services under a certain amount and the number of quotes and documentation needed to proceed with a purchase,” she said.

Board member Ed Raymond, who attended the meeting virtually, said it is a conflict of interest having a board member and the town clerk serving on the board together, however Wilbur told Raymond it isn’t the same because the town clerk has no vote on the board.

“That’s not the same at all, town councilmen and town clerks are elected by their town residents. We are not hired, we are elected officials,” she said.

Raymond mentioned his grief with the issue, saying that if it’s going to save the town money, why is there an issue.

“Obviously we appreciate Marci and the town clerk’s information, your advice, and I don’t think our town has grown so big that what we have done for the last 50 years doesn’t work and we need to make drastic changes of how we operate our business in the town,” he said.

Raymond said he believes it’s best for the board to look over the codes and proposed the idea of the board looking over all the information handed out by Wilbur and then coming to an agreement at their December meeting so they are ready to adopt the code of ethics for 2022. The board decided it will discuss the matter at the December meeting.

“I don’t know how the rest of the board feels about it but that’s my opinion,” Raymond said.