Panel asked to investigate Jenne

Mark Walczyk, Republican Assembly candidate for the 116th District, speaks during an interview on Oct. 11 at the Watertown Daily Times office in Watertown.

Mark C. Walczyk, a Republican running to unseat Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, has called on the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics to investigate his opponent.

In a letter to the ethics commission, Mr. Walczyk, a Watertown councilman, complained Ms. Jenne tried to direct state funding to a friend in 2014.

The complaint follows the arrest of Nathan J. McElhone on Sept. 8 for allegedly possessing stolen goods in a pickup truck owned by Ms. Jenne.

After the arrest, WWNY-TV 7 News reported Ms.Jenne in 2014 asked North Country Affordable Housing to approve a $125,000 member item, or legislator grant, and take out a long-term lease on a property owned by Mr. McElhone.

At the time Gary Beasley, the former executive director of Neighbors of Watertown, served on the affordable housing board. North Country Affordable Housing denied the request. State funding to North Country Affordable Housing is administered through Neighbors of Watertown.

The assemblywoman has said Mr. McElhone is a good friend, a former boyfriend, and that she has represented him in legal matters, but she disputes that she knew him in 2014.

“I’m deeply concerned the methods of the Assemblywoman were an attempt to skirt any legitimate, competitive, fair and impartial process of directing taxpayer monies,” Mr. Walczyk wrote to the ethics committee chairman.

The committee declined to say whether it will investigate the claim.

Mr. Beasley is the only source of the allegations of misconduct mentioned in the letter.

“This is not ‘fake news.’ There is ample evidence of Addie Jenne’s efforts to direct her ‘member item’ money to only her friend’s building in spite of recommendations that it help start a Downtown Antwerp Revitalization Fund,” Mr. Beasley wrote publicly on Facebook Oct. 10. “Addie Jenne’s insistence that her member item funds be improperly used only for her friend’s building cost Antwerp potential additional funding.”

Mr. Beasley, in an interview, said he wrote the post after Ms. Jenne denied inappropriate conduct last month.

“Allegations suggested I acted improperly in seeking to work with local officials to renovate a deteriorating building in downtown Antwerp are misleading and simply wrong,” she said at the time. “Some people might even call it fake news.”

Mr. Beasley said his evidence of impropriety led him to share the project denial.

“I had personal involvement, I was in direct conversations with Assemblywoman Jenne,” he said.

Mr. Beasley said Ms. Jenne proposed buying materials for Mr. McElhone and Brad Nourse, property co-owner. The two men would do the work themselves, a situation Mr. Beasley said would never be approved.

“I pointed out there would be regulations,” Mr. Beasley said. “Her scenario wouldn’t meet those requirements.”

Mr. Beasley said Ms. Jenne was insistent. He offered that North Country Affordable Housing could take ownership of the building and rent it to Mr. McElhone and Mr. Nourse, and the work would be contracted through the state bidding process.

“She said no, I want my money to buy the materials and these gentlemen will be the contractors,” Mr. Beasley recalled. “I want them to build equity, I want them to get on their feet.”

Mr. Beasley said a letter to Ms. Jenne outlined why her proposal would not work.

“To my knowledge, the funds never materialized,” Mr. Beasley said.

Ms. Jenne wrote in a statement to the Times that she focused on a different building.

“When Gary Beasley rejected the project, I helped fund renovations to the Crosby Public Library across the street,” Ms. Jenne stated. “Even when Gary Beasley rejected the plan to improve Antwerp, I kept my commitment to the community and ensured the money stayed in the village, helping Antwerp families.”

Mr. Beasley said it appeared Ms. Jenne did not understand the process, but he found the fact she did not change her goal after he explained the proper route confusing. After learning of Mr. McElhone’s arrest, Mr. Beasley said he believed Ms. Jenne knew Mr. McElhone in 2014 and was attempting to help him because of their friendship.

Ms. Jenne has said repeatedly she did not know Mr. McElhone in 2014. She looked into the repairs at the private request of village trustee and current Deputy Mayor Jonathan P. Cole, she said.

Text messages provided to the Times between Ms. Jenne and Mr. Cole, which start on Aug. 5, 2014, are largely about a possible water main break and sewer issues.

In one message, though, Mr. Cole writes “Thank you for coming over today, if I see Nate I’ll get his contact information for you.”

On Aug. 8, Mr. Cole texted Ms. Jenne a phone number and the name Nate McElhone.

Mr. Beasley said the conversations between himself and Ms. Jenne did not begin until late September of that year, and that he did a walkthrough of the house on Oct. 23.

Mr. Beasley said Mr. Walczyk called him to ask about his Facebook post within the last few days. He said he did not know of the ethics complaint until Wednesday.

Ms. Jenne questioned if Mr. Beasley was politically motivated.

“I’m not sure what’s behind Gary Beasley’s current statement, but he’s displaying my opponent’s campaign literature on his Facebook page,” she wrote.

Mr. Beasley posted a photo of a campaign flyer supporting Mr. Walczyk with his Oct. 10 post. In a comment on the post, Mr. Beasley added “And let’s not forget Addie Jenne voted in the middle of the night with downstate Democrats to pass the terrible NY (un)Safe Act.”

He is not listed as a donor to Mr. Walczyk’s campaign on the New York State Board of Elections website.

Mr. McElhone has declined to be interviewed, but he directed the Times to a Facebook post of his own on Oct. 9. In the post he stated he met Ms. Jenne in court while responding to county code violations. He thanked her for her legal advice and encouragement, but it is not clear when that occurred.

Mr. McElhone in the same Facebook post said he had rented the property where he allegedly stole copper piping. The building belongs to Andrew Dean.

Mr. McElhone wrote that he paid rent and he stored scrap there and that his arrest was a misunderstanding.

In a deposition Mr. Dean said Mr. McElhone had stopped renting the property about a year ago.

“He cleaned his stuff out, except for the garbage,” Mr. Dean told the Times on Wednesday, confirming his deposition.

Mr. McElhone allegedly entered Mr. Dean’s trailer around 3:30 a.m. looking for cigarettes, Mr. Dean said it was the first time they had spoken in about a year, other than saying hello on the street.

“One day he called me and said he got all his tools out and we haven’t spoken since,” Mr. Dean said. “You don’t walk into someone’s house around three in the morning.”

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I cover federal, state and local politics as it relates to the north country

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