Miller should not take seat

The Fulton County Ethics Board’s recent advisory opinion that Scott Miller should not be sworn in Jan. 2 as a Johnstown councilman-at-large because his employment at the cities’ sewer plant creates a conflict of interest, needs to be taken seriously by both Miller and the city’s Common Council.

This highly unusual advisory opinion by the ethics board was prompted by a complaint filed by Lt. David Gilbo a month ago to city attorney Michael Poulin. Gilbo says the complaint stems from the ongoing ethics probe of the sewer plant by the Johnstown Police Department and the state Comptroller’s Office.

Gilbo said he felt it was his duty to advance Miller’s name for a possible conflict to “keep the integrity” of the larger investigation, although he added that Miller is “not under investigation,” but “There’s other issues in the investigation.”

We aren’t certain what those issues are, but given the severity of an ongoing ethics probe and Gilbo’s concerns that Miller could imperil the integrity of the investigation if seated as councilman-at-large, we feel Miller should decline to be sworn into office.

It is true that voters elected Miller despite concerns of his possible conflict of interest having been raised by members of the public and an editorial in these pages published July 19. But it’s not like the public had much of a choice. Miller ran unopposed in the Republican party primary and the general election.

Miller has said he has asked the New York state attorney general’s office for an opinion on whether his status as a sewer plant employee makes him ineligible to serve as councilman-at-large. He says he hasn’t received an answer yet as to whether the attorney general will issue an opinion on the matter.

We asked Poulin to solicit an opinion from the attorney general in July, which evidently he did not do. The Leader-Herald attempted to interview Poulin about the ethics board’s advisory opinion, but he couldn’t be reached for comment, which has often been the case for many Johnstown stories since his appointment.

We know that Mr. Poulin is a busy guy, what with his appointment as assistant county public defender, but he needs to make himself more available to justify the city’s expense of maintaining him as their city attorney. For the 2017 budget year, Johnstown is set to spend $137,200 for Poulin’s department, which includes his salary, his full-time secretary’s salary and other legal expenses for the city.

Poulin should research the issue of Miller’s potential conflict of interest and provide the common council with a detailed report citing court rulings, if any exist, pertaining to situations when an employee of a city-owned and controlled entity like a sewer plant have been elected to the governing body which controls where they work.

Miller would also be serving as an elected official to a government whose police agency is investigating his primary employer. Poulin should research whether there are any legal precedents that exist for how he would need to remove himself from possible influence of the city’s police. Could it be that Miller is conflicted from even voting on the city’s budget, which pays for the police probing his employer? Poulin needs to find out, and if he is either unwilling or incapable of doing that then newly elected Mayor Vern Jackson and the common council should rescind his appointment and replace him.

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