Lloyd responds to ethics opinion on Councilman Fraino

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 8/23/23

At their August 16th meeting, the Lloyd Town Board reviewed a recent advisory opinion rendered by the Town’s Ethics Board concerning an alleged conflict of interest issue, when the town hired …

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Lloyd responds to ethics opinion on Councilman Fraino


At their August 16th meeting, the Lloyd Town Board reviewed a recent advisory opinion rendered by the Town’s Ethics Board concerning an alleged conflict of interest issue, when the town hired an accounting firm that employs the wife of Town Councilman John Fraino. The board hired the firm of Nugent and Haeussler at their April 19, 2023 meeting, and Fraino recused himself from the vote.

Just as the board discussion began at last week’s meeting, Councilman Fraino recused himself and stepped out of the room. Supervisor Dave Plavchak was sharply critical of the Southern Ulster Times for reporting this story before the ethics committee released its findings.

“I’m very disappointed of the way this came about,” Plavchak said at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting. “I’m very disappointed in the unprofessionalism of some in the town, and I’m very disappointed, as I have been in the past, with the Southern Ulster Times.”

Plavchak said the ethics board was asked if the written disclosure of interest requirement should be changed, and it came to no agreement on that, adding that was up to the town board to decide; but some felt that, given a possible violation by town officials, the town board should make them fully aware of this.

“Whenever a matter requiring the exercise of discretion comes before a municipal officer or employee, either individually or as a member of a board, and disposition of the matter could result in a direct or indirect financial or material benefit to himself or herself, a relative, or any private organization in which he or she is deemed to have an interest, the municipal officer or employee shall disclose in writing the nature of the interest.” He added that moving forward, any potential or actual conflict must be submitted in writing.

The ethics board concluded that Fraino acted properly by abstaining when the contract came up for a vote on April 19, 2023. They noted that five days before the vote, the Town Clerk distributed the agenda to all of the Town Board members. It was then that Fraino informed Supervisor Plavchak of his conflict and said he was going to recuse himself from discussions on the matter and would not vote when it came before the Town Board.

The Ethics Board, however, pointed out that Fraino did not submit a written disclosure of his conflict as is required, stating that although the conflict was already known, it was, “just an inadvertent oversight.”

The Ethics Board left it up to the Town Board on whether they wanted to make any changes to the town’s Ethics code but that written disclosure is part of the requirement.

Councilman Joe Mazzetti sent an email on August 16, 2023 to town attorney Sean Murphy, all Town Board members and Ethics Board chairman Raphael Diaz, highlighting a few of his concerns: “When and where did the Ethics Board meet on this matter?; How were members of the Ethics Board invited or made aware of the meeting and were all members invited?; Who was present at this meeting and was there a quorum? Was Mr. Fraino and anybody else interviewed by the Ethics Board?”

Former Ethics Board member Robert Haskins also sent an email to the chairman and members of the Ethics Board, seeking clarification on their advisory opinion. He wrote that he is concerned about transparency that, “requires a public notification any time an officer becomes aware of a potential conflict,” further stating that he does not call this provision in the code a technicality. He added that, “it has a clear purpose to make sure that the public is aware anytime that a potential conflict exists.”

Haskins wrote that some Town Board members may not have been aware of this potential conflict, however, Supervisor Plavchak stressed that not only was the agenda, with the resolution to hire the firm, sent to all Town Board members prior to the vote, but the details of the contract were read aloud at the April 19th meeting.

Haskins pointed out that the “optics” of hiring this firm is problematic.

“Of all the accounting firms out there, the one that has the councilman’s wife involved with it was the best choice? This is particularly worthy of consideration insofar as, from the information provided, there appears to be a potential that the firm is blatantly misrepresenting her role at the firm to the public. Clearly, this doesn’t look as good as it might.”

At the August 16th Town Board meeting, Ethics Board chairman Rafael Diaz and Steve Laubach addressed the board on their submitted opinion.
Diaz said the opinion speaks for itself and also noted that he has not seen any written declarations on conflicts in the past.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of ethical cases where it was just verbally given at the time and they do what John [Fraino] did,” he said, adding that he stands by the decision.

Councilman Mike Guerriero asked Diaz if his board met and had a quorum present when making a decision. Diaz said they did it by email and had a quorum. It was noted that member Mark Elia recused himself, as he is running for a seat on the Town Board.

The Town Board then adopted the advisory opinion of the Ethics Board, which made it a determination of the Town Board.

Fraino prepared a response on this issue, dated July 17, 2023 that is on file with the Town Clerk. He said after telling the Supervisor that his wife is employed by the firm, he was told that he was not involved in the bid, the review or the selection process but would have to abstain from the vote, which he did. He added that he did not have to comment on the reason for abstaining, “unless you are asked, then you can.”

Fraino said in hindsight he should have further researched this required action in the code.

“On April 18, I read the agenda for the April town board meeting. I informed the town supervisor and confidential secretary. That my wife worked for Nugent Hausler. Their response was you were not involved with the bid, the review or the selection process.

You are fine, but you have to abstain from the vote. I then asked if I had to comment on my reason for abstention. I was told no. Unless you are asked. Then you can. In hindsight, I should have researched the required action defined by sections ten two and ten five of the Town Code.

Further, I assure you my action was purely a technical violation, did not constitute a corrupt or unethical action. There was not any financial gain or benefit to me or my family by the town awarding this contract to Nugent and Hausler.” Fraino said. “So that was my response on file. And as always, I have something else to say. Okay. Since this surfaced, I did a little more research because I’m new and you can’t claim ignorance to the law. I understand that.

“I did some research and I saw what has been done in the past, and I really didn’t have to go too far back in time to find when a member abstained. So I would just like to point this out. I’m not calling for an investigation because it’s done, and I think we all are a little smarter.

“But as I said, due to the highlighted focus on the town board members’ adherence to the town’s code of ethics, I am compelled to make this point.”

Fraino contends that Councilman Joe Mazzetti twice violated the town’s Ethics Code at their April 20, 2022 meeting on the adoption of the town’s Adaptive Reuse law. On the vote, Mazzetti recused himself, which is what Fraino did on this matter. Fraino implied that this law could accrue a direct financial benefit to Mazzetti, who owns a number of apartment buildings in town.

“The point needs to be made that before you start throwing stones, you should look at your own conduct and your own behavior and not drag myself, my wife, my friends through this,” he said. “I texted Mr. Mazzetti that he should look in the mirror before you start pointing fingers.”

Mazzetti was not at Wednesday’s meeting.
Plavchak said the 2022 audit by Nugent and Haeussler took six weeks to complete at a fee of $11,000.

“I want to put this behind us and I want to move forward and continue getting good things done for the town and our residents as we have been,” he said.