Jul 29, 2014

Opponent Accuses Orangetown Supervisor of 'Unethical Activity'

Republican Walter Wettje, Jr., who will challenge incumbent Democrat Andy Stewart for Orangetown Supervisor's job this fall, criticized Stewart at Tuesday's town board meeting for his handling of email notifications sent to approximately 3,000 residents about a campaign event in June.
Orangetown Councilmen Tom Diviny and Denis Troy previously brought up the issue during a meeting in June, calling on Stewart to take responsibility for the email blast sent out through town resources in advance of the supervisor's golf outing. Stewart said it was an error that goes against town policy, but added that he did not know about the mailing until after it was sent. 

"I was shocked and extremely disappointed that you, Mr. Supervisor, did not take responsibility and hold yourself accountable for the ethics violation by your and your team," Wettje said. "Instead, you brushed it off by saying to Councilor Troy that they were baseless accusations, that you did not know anything about the email distribution and that this was your first attempt at a golf outing.

"I challenge you to write a check to the Town of Orangetown in the amount of $1,500 to cover the cost of postage, envelopes and paper that should have been used to contact these approximately 3,000 residents of the town. I also challenge you tonight, Mr. Supervisor, to be the leader that leads from the front, not the rear holding yourself responsible and accepting responsibility for this unethical activity."

All email blasts sent out to Orangetown's golf mailing list are supposed to go through Parks and Recreation Director Aric Gorton, but Gorton did not see the mailing before it was sent. Stewart said somebody helping him with the event requested that the mailing go out without his knowledge. 

"I did not send the email golf list," said Stewart, directly addressing Wettje. "There was a request that I did not know about. It was sent out against the policy of having emails reviewed by the parks superintendent. There is not a lot more to say about it. It was regrettable. I do not have access to the golf email system to send something like that, so your attempt to paint it as unethical behavior is simply off base and hopefully we can have more substantive conversations when it comes to your candidacy for supervisor."

Deputy Supervisor Allan Ryff is the council's liaison to Orangetown's ethics committee. He said the committee has said there was no substance to the accusation. He asked Michael Mandel, chairman of the committee, to confirm that statement, but Mandel said he did not want to discuss committee business during the meeting.

"If the ethics committee has something to say about it, I would love to hear it," Stewart said.

He added that he was not copied on any of the emails related to the request. 

"It has been informally reviewed by the board of ethics because there are people who would make a political issue out of it," Stewart said.

During the June meeting, Diviny and Troy both asked Stewart to take responsibility for the email blast and apologies. 

"It may or may not have been ethical, but you are responsible for emails that go out from your committee," Diviny said Tuesday night.

Diviny pointed to another email blast this week in advance an event for Stewart Thursday, a barbecue. Diviny said he could have only gotten the email addresses from the town website and asked for an explanation. Orangetown employees were among the recipients of the email.

"The first one went out, you said you didn't know how to run a golf outing," Diviny said. "The second time this happens, it's something questionable."

Stewart said the more recent email blast was a different type of error. He said he sent out the email blast himself, but included a list of town employee emails by accident. He said the list of 194 town employees is one he normally uses for town-related emails, such as storm updates. 

"I absolutely agree that it is not the right thing to send my barbecue event to town employees," Stewart said. "Today I sent out an email saying, 'Oops,' and I removed town employee emails from the list I used. 

"I goofed, loading the email and including the excel sheet that has town email (addresses). That was a mistake. It was regrettable. It was a private email blast that I accidently put town emails into because I'm not perfect. I've done all I can to remedy that, including notifying department heads. Unfortunately, the barbecue message went out to town employees."

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