CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Ethics has not yet received any formal complaints into allegations that an elections commissioner sent political material from her county-owned computer, and the potential path forward is unlikely to be explosive.
County Attorney Stephen D. Button, who serves as staff liaison to the Ethics Board, said Monday he wasn’t aware of any complaints being filed in the matter yet.
“The Board of Ethics takes any material that is put before them seriously and carries out the functions of their job very seriously. I can’t really speak, at this point, as to what steps the Board of Ethics may find appropriate to investigate any matter,” Mr. Button said.
Last week, Alex Degrasse, an adviser to Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, alleged St. Lawrence County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jennie H. Bacon disseminated a draft press release on behalf of the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee using a county-owned computer, breaking state laws prohibiting government employees from participating in political activity while discharging official duties.
“The St. Lawrence County Democrat election commissioner must resign immediately for breaking the law and an independent investigation should be launched,” Mr. Degrasse wrote in a press release Friday.
Ms. Bacon, who also serves as secretary to the Democratic Committee, claims she was sent the draft news release and accidentally attached it to an email sent to the New York Election Commissioners Association.
“The email sent on behalf of the NYS Election Commissioners association inadvertently had the wrong attachment from an email I had recently received,” Ms. Bacon wrote in a prepared statement Friday. “The correct document was then sent immediately. Both documents had been emailed to me, in a rush to get the email to the Association I inadvertently attached the wrong document.”
Under the county’s code of ethics, there are several ways the Ethics Board can proceed.
In the event the board is presented with a formal ethics complaint against Ms. Bacon, they can move forward with an investigation into the matter. This could theoretically include subpoenas for testimony or seizing of records for evidence in the matter, though Mr. Button said usually such probes don’t go that far.
The Ethics Board may also consider an advisory opinion into whether Ms. Bacon’s actions violated the county’s ethics code. This could be undertaken at the request of the employee in question, in this case Ms. Bacon, or a superior.
The alleged violation would likely fall most succinctly under the provision of the county’s ethics code barring “misuse of government resources” if Ms. Bacon was in fact using a county computer, or sent the email during working hours.
While the code of ethics does not prescribe particular consequences for each type of violation, it does specify that in order to exact a penalty, the action in question must have been conducted “knowingly or intentionally.” Any penalty would also have to be approved by the county Board of Legislators.
County Board of Legislators Chairman William J. Sheridan, R-Hammond, did not return request for comment Monday.