Three candidates are vying for two seats on the Greenburgh Town Council June 25, one of whom, current Councilman Ken Jones, is responding to a citizen’s ethics complaint filed against him.
The complaint, filed June 12 with the Greenburgh Board of Ethics by Greenburgh resident Rodney Lederer-Plaskett, stated that Councilman Jones should have recused himself from any town decisions involving The Bozeman Law Firm, as recommended by a board of ethics decision May 8, 2018.
Bishop Wilbert Preston, chairperson of the board of commissioners for the Greenburgh Housing Authority, refused to confirm whether or not the authority was still represented by The Bozeman Law Firm.
Jones told the Inquirer he believes The Bozeman Law Firm is still representing the authority.
“Councilman Jones failed to comply with the advice of the board of ethics, putting into question whether the best interests of those most in need of low-income housing in our area are best being served and the letter and spirit of the code of ethics … has been followed,” wrote Lederer-Plaskett in his complaint.
Jones has been liaison to the Greenburgh Housing Authority for eight years.
Blase Spinozzi, the board of ethics secretary, confirmed that the board received the complaint.
In an email to the Inquirer, Jones said, “While I was of counsel, Councilman Sheehan … suggested I approach the Ethics Board. In an abundance of caution I asked the board for an informal opinion. They said while I was associated with the firm I should refrain from voting as a councilman on GHA related matters.”
According to Jones, Sheehan made the suggestion after being approached by a resident about Jones’ association with the law firm.
According to Sheehan, a suggestion for Jones to meet with the ethics board was done during a town board executive session meeting.
Jones worked at The Bozeman Law Firm from January 2015 to December 2017. In an article June 7 in the Inquirer on the three Greenburgh candidates running for two Greenburgh town council seats, Jones told the Inquirer the informal ethics board opinion he requested “was over two years ago and in that time period no votes were taken,” he said. “The only vote was the one on May 22, and on May 22 I did not work for the The Bozeman Law Firm.”
Jones is currently running for re-election in the June 25 Democratic primary.
In a town board meeting May 22, the agenda stated that votes on two resolutions would be held over for a meeting on June 12 — a vote authorizing Supervisor Paul Feiner to enter into a municipal fee agreement with the Manhattan Avenue Senior LLC and a vote authorizing the supervisor to enter into a tax exemption agreement with the nonprofit Manhattan Avenue Senior Housing Development Fund Corp. for the benefit of the for-profit Manhattan Avenue Senior LLC. The purpose of the second resolution was to grant tax- exempt status to an affordable housing project for seniors.
The Greenburgh Housing Authority oversees affordable housing in Greenburgh and is a separate entity from the town.
“It was very disheartening to have this board pull this from the agenda to be voted on tonight,” Preston said at the May 22 meeting, referring to the plan to push the vote on the resolutions.
Supervisor Feiner said the reason for holding over any action on the resolution was to give Ellen Hendrickx, who had just been appointed interim council member at the May 22 meeting, time to become acquainted with the resolutions.
“I think there is no reason why we shouldn’t have this vote tonight and move everything forward,” responded Jones at the meeting May 22. “I was not informed at all that this was being … held over for a meeting of June 12. I don’t agree to it and I move that we vote on [the resolutions] tonight as planned.”
Interim board member Hendrickx seconded the motion to vote.
At the same meeting, Councilman Francis Sheehan, referencing Jones’ ethics board inquiry, said, “One of the board members went to the ethics board and was told that he shouldn’t vote on it.”
To which Jones replied, “What are you talking about? That’s absolute nonsense. I did not go to the ethics board,” and he said the board never told him to refrain from voting on anything. “That is outrageous that you would suggest that I’d be unethical by advocating for the housing authority of which I am the liaison for. There is absolutely no proof or any ring of truth to that assertion.”
According to ethics board meeting minutes from May 8, 2018, Ken Jones made an informal request for advice on how to proceed in future decisions involving his position on the town board, his liaison position with the Greenburgh Housing Authority for the town board, and the legal firm to which he served of counsel. The board then recommended that Jones recuse himself from any decisions involving his firm and the town.
“The statement was made in frustration and haste and was inartful at best,” Jones said about his public response to an ethics board request. “What I meant to say was the board of ethics told me not to vote while I was associated with the firm. It is ridiculous to say that I cannot vote now, as I am no longer associated with the firm.”
After suspending the rules, Feiner, Hendrickx and Jones voted in favor of the resolutions on May 22. Sheehan voted against the measures, and Councilwoman Diana Juettner abstained.
“I still am troubled by how the events played out,” said Sheehan about the May 22 meeting vote. “I was surprised to see [the resolutions] put back on the agenda and I was surprised that [Jones] voted for this.”
Sheehan did not believe that Jones would be allowed to vote, per the ethics board decision.
“The ethics board would ultimately make that call,” he said.
Jones was officially employed at The Bozeman Law Firm until 2017, and was of counsel to the firm in 2018. He cut ties with the firm as of 2019 but currently pays the firm $1,000 per month to rent space for his solo law practice, according to Jones.
“From 2015 to the present I never did any work for the firm remotely related to the Greenburgh Housing Authority,” Jones told the Inquirer. “Nor did I ever receive any remuneration directly or indirectly from the Greenburgh Housing Authority.”
In March 2019 Jones began working as senior associate counsel at the Legal Aid Society of Westchester.
“I continue to pay rent at the Bozeman firm while winding down my solo practice,” said Jones.
On May 24 — two days after the passage of the resolutions — The Bozeman Law Firm made a $500 contribution to the Committee to Elect Ken Jones.
“This is less than 3.75% of my total campaign contributions,” said Jones. “I became aware of the contribution when I received it.”
Bruce Bozeman, the principal attorney for The Bozeman Law Firm, was not available for comment.
The ethics complaint filed by Lederer-Plaskett did not include the donation, as it was submitted before the release of contributions by the New York State Board of Elections.
“The suit is baseless,” said Jones in response to the ethics complaint. “I welcome the investigation.”
The next meeting of the board of ethics will be at Greenburgh Town Hall June 25 at 6 p.m.