Yesterday evening, the City of Amsterdam’s Ethics Board unanimously decided that Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler violated chapter 23, section 3(I) of the city’s ethics code when she failed to apply for the proper permit for work being done at her home, even after being contacted by the codes department twice about the issue. The board also agreed that in their opinion, Hatzenbuhler should not continue to chair the Codes Committee. The findings and opinions of the board will be issued in a letter addressed to Hatzenbuhler and copied to the Common Council later this week.
At the meeting, the board unanimously agreed that the testimonies given by Wilkie Platt of the city codes department at a previous board meeting earlier in the month were credible, given that Hatzenbuhler, at the same meeting, did not dispute anything that he had said. According to Peter Califano, Chairman of the Ethics Board, Platt initially met with Hatzenbuhler about an unrelated complaint about Hatzenbuhler’s property on August 13th 2014. At that meeting Platt learned of upcoming work on her front porch and informed her that she would need a permit. Platt observed on October 17th that work on the front porch had begun and again informed her that she needed a permit. Platt observed on October 24th that work was continuing and a permit still had not been applied for. Platt issued a “stop work order” on October 27th.
An ethics complaint was filed on October 29th which stated that Hatzenbuhler was having work done without the proper permit and at one time an expired permit was placed in the window of the home. The complaint form indicates that the date of the violation was October 15th.
The board agreed that section I of the ethics code, which was approved by the Common Council along with other revisions on October 21st and filed with the city clerk’s office on October 22nd, was applicable to the situation as the codes violation extended past that date, as evidenced by the stop work order which was issued on the 27th. The section of code states that city officials should “avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
In the letter, which was recited verbally at the meeting, the board deemed the justification Hatzenbuhler gave for not applying for the permit, which was that she was too busy due to personal issues, was “unconvincing due to the amount of time that passed between your being told to obtain a permit and the stop work order being issued.” The letter also notes Hatzenbuhler’s statements to the board that other homeowners do not maintain their properties or obtain the proper permits as well as her concerns about the effectiveness of codes enforcement in the city.
The letter states that Hatzenbuhler’s behavior as an elected official gave the appearance of impropriety because it creates an “appearance of acting above the law or without concern for consequences for violating the law” and that the actions “undermine the public’s trust in the administration of government.”
According to Califano, at the previous board meeting, Hatzenbuhler accused the ethics board proceedings as being political in nature. On November 3rd 2014, a message was posted on the “City of Amsterdam NY Democrat’s” Facebook page calling for Hatzenbuhler to be removed as chair of the Codes Committee and from her position as Deputy Mayor.
Members of the Ethics Board who were present at the meeting included Califano, Theresa Kelsey, Lisa Choat, Marilyn Andrews and Gail Bowers. Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis was also present at the meeting to advise the board, but is not a voting member of the board.
The Ethics Board does not have the authority to remove Hatzenbuhler from her position as chair of the Codes Committee, but rather it will be up to either Hatzenbuhler or the Common Council to act on the board’s recommendations.