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No ethics charges against Eggleton

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — May 23, 2008 — Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton will not face an inquiry by the Sullivan County Board of Ethics.
On Tuesday, two of the three members of the Sullivan County Legislature’s Ethics Subcommittee determined Republican Legislator David Sager’s accusations against Eggleton did not merit referral to the volunteer board.
The documents involved in the charges have now been sealed, and Eggleton retains her role as liaison to all nine legislators and County Manager David Fanslau.
This being a personnel matter, Democratic Legislator Frank Armstrong did not feel free to divulge his reasons for not passing it on to the board. Fellow Democrat and subcommittee member Ron Hiatt did not return a call for comment.
The other randomly chosen member of the subcommittee, Republican Legislator Alan Sorensen, reportedly favored sending the matter to the board, but he also did not return a call for comment.
Comments, however, were flowing this week, including from Eggleton’s attorney, Michael Sussman.
“We’re obviously delighted about [the subcommittee’s decision],” said Sussman, speaking on Eggleton’s behalf.
He confirmed that Eggleton plans to remain, and he advised legislators to allow her to do her work for both them and Fanslau.
“I’m sure that the political aspects will continue, but I’m going to caution Mr. Sager and his colleagues to lay off of this woman and let her do her job,” Sussman remarked. “. . . I think she is fully capable and can do this job.”
Sussman said Eggleton did not violate confidentiality nor have malicious intent when she told Fanslau via text message in February that Sager was looking into his employment contract. That message was mistakenly sent to Sager himself, and he publicly called for her termination shortly after receiving it – deeming it espionage by a “political operative” for the Democratic majority.
“Mr. Sager is keeping this alive for political purposes,” Sussman charged, observing that there are far more pressing issues for legislators to attend to. “. . . I think people should basically go back to their jobs and do what they’re supposed to do.”
However, he did urge legislators to review Eggleton’s duties and clarify her obligations to the nine legislators and Fanslau.
“Given there’s often tension between the executive and legislative branches, having the same person responsible to report to both sides is inherently conflictual,” Sussman explained, “and certainly led to the issue here, since she had dual, divided loyalties to some extent.”
Those legislators that did choose to speak on the matter were divided in their thoughts.
Some, like Armstrong and fellow Democrat Elwin Wood, stayed neutral.
“They reviewed it and went forward,” said Wood, who recused himself from the subcommittee because of his close personal ties to Eggleton and her family. “Hopefully now we can move forward in taking care of government business . . . in a positive, non-partisan way.”
Armstrong thinks that’s already happening, remarking, “If you notice, the last vote that we had… was a truly bipartisan coalition we brought in to remove Mr. Roemer.”
(Armstrong was referencing last week’s 7-2 vote, with Sorensen and Democratic Legislative Chair Jonathan Rouis dissenting, to replace labor attorney Jim Roemer, who was negotiating with the unions on the county’s behalf.)
Other legislators, however, remained upset with what they viewed as a partisan political matter.
“I think it was an inappropriate decision,” said Republican Minority Leader Leni Binder, adding that no legislators should have been involved in making such a decision (though the county’s ethics code currently demands it be handled this way).
“Every one of the legislators was prejudiced about it,” she pointed out, saying she plans to advocate for an independent body to review charges against personnel who work directly for the Legislature.
Fellow Republican Legislator Jodi Goodman agreed.
“I felt the only course of action was to pass it away from the legislators because not a single legislator had the ability to be unbiased,” Goodman remarked.
However, she felt the situation extended beyond partisan politics.
“They did what they thought was right,” she said of the subcommittee members, “but I think the process was flawed.”
Hiatt should not have been part of that group, she charged, because of his comments to the Democrat in response to Sager publicizing the normally confidential ethics charges.
“It got pretty nasty,” she observed of the war of words, adding that, as a result, both Eggleton and Sager are assessing their litigation options.
“As Alexis feels she’s been wronged, Dave feels he’s been wronged,” Goodman explained.
She maintains she has a good working relationship with Eggleton, “but I have not been able to remove from my memory bank the fact that she sits on a Democratic committee [in the Town of Rockland].”
Rouis, the chair of the Legislature, did not return a call for comment, but Democratic Majority Leader Kathy LaBuda made her feelings clear.
“It is truly unfortunate that an innocent, hardworking county employee had to suffer so much at the hands of a person who has his own political agenda,” she said.
As litigation is being threatened on both sides, LaBuda worried that “this situation may now cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.”
In the meantime, she agreed that “it’s time we move on,” noting that most of the legislators have worked together for some time now.
As for Sager, he had little to say when contacted Tuesday.
“I would like to digest this information for a little while,” he related in a discouraged tone.

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