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State, town ethics watchdogs defend councilman over email

JULIE LANE PHOTO Councilman Paul Shepherd
JULIE LANE PHOTO Councilman Paul Shepherd

Just ahead of the public hearing scheduled for Friday, April 7 on proposed short-term rental (STR) legislation, there’s been a call for a Town Board member to recuse himself and be thrown off the board.

In a Freedom of Information Law request for board members’ emails relating to STRs, a group of residents who are fighting parts of proposed regulations, pointed to an October email from Councilman Paul Shepherd to a resident with a draft of an STR law attached.

Katrhryn O’Hagan, an advocate opposing certain STR regulations, emailed the Reporter this week that the draft attached to Mr. Shepherd’s email was a “confidential town work product” and it is “against ethics rules to share confidential documents with the public …”

Ms. O’Hagan characterized Mr. Shepherd’s action as “an offense worthy of dismissal and violates the public trust.”

This is untrue, according to Kristin O’Neil of the New York State Committee on Open Government. Ms. O’Neil said that unless something has been made confidential by statute, such as asking for a person’s medical records, nothing prohibits a member of the Town Board from making a draft of a law available to anyone.

Hermann von Karp, one of the town’s three-member Ethics Committee, said the opinion by the state’s Open Meeting Committee was correct. Mr. von Karp pointed out that the Ethics Committee can only investigate issues when the Town Board makes a request.

Hoot Sherman, his colleague on the Ethics Committee, was asked if Mr. Shepherd had done anything unethical or illegal. “Not a bit,” Mr. Sherman said.

A former town supervisor, Mr. Sherman said when he was an elected official, reaching out to residents with information and asking for feedback was a natural and important part of governing that was encouraged.

Richard Petry, the other member of the Ethics Committee, agreed with his colleagues that nothing unethical or illegal had occurred.

Ms. O’Hagan said a Reporter story from October indicates that the draft law was not for public consumption, Part of the story states: “While [a] draft hasn’t been made public yet, a second draft could appear on the town’s website next week…”

This report is accurate; the story doesn’t report that residents can’t request to see the draft.

The group leading the protest against regulating STRs has called for Councilman Jim Colligan to recuse himself from voting on the issue and to resign his seat because he had encouraged residents to write to his colleagues on the board to make their feelings known about regulating STRs.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, when asked Monday if he believes his colleague should recuse themselves or resign, said, “I’m not in a position to judge that. I’d like to leave it up to the individual judgment of the council people involved.”

The public hearing on STR legislation is scheduled for Friday, April 7 at 5 p.m. in the school auditorium,