CANTON — Two St. Lawrence County lawmakers will be absent during Monday’s legislative meeting. Nance A. Arquiett, D-Winthrop, and Henry Leader, R-Gouverneur, each tendered their resignations, effective May 31, due to conflicts of interest.
The lawmakers resigned from the positions on the county legislature following the advice of the county ethics board due to the nature of their jobs. Mrs. Arquiett is a state Department of Environmental Conservation employee, and Mr. Leader is an attorney who represents about a dozen villages and towns in the county.
Ms. Arquiett, who represents the county’s District 11, declined to comment on her resignation and referred to her resignation letter.
In it she told Legislative Chairman Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, that “to be fully transparent, and to ensure that I was in compliance with County Ethics Law,” she sought an advisory opinion on recusal guidelines with the St. Lawrence County Board of Ethics.
She said sought the opinion as it pertained to her position as an assistant public information officer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which she took in January.
“It is with regret that I inform you that the County Board of Ethics has determined that the St. Lawrence County Ethics Law prohibits me from holding both positions simultaneously,” she wrote. “The thought of stepping down from my seat on the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators greatly saddens me. However, I strongly believe that we have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the State of New York and to do so requires us to abide by the ethics laws that have been set forth.”
While she told Mr. Lightfoot it was an honor to serve her county and a “privilege working alongside the members of this board for the protection and betterment” of the county, and that her current employment precludes her from remaining on the Board of Legislators, “should the opportunity arise where I may assist in either a voluntary capacity or on one of the many advisory boards, I welcome the chance.”
Mr. Leader was not immediately available for comment and a message left at his home was not returned by the time of this report.
His resignation letter was not immediately available and would likely be made public at Monday’s full board of legislature meeting, Mr. Lightfoot said.
“I would be reluctant until everybody on the board saw it. I haven’t even seen it, so I don’t think it would be prudent and reasonable of me to do that,” he said. “Henry resigned essentially the same reason Nance did. Henry had asked for an opinion that compared his outside employment as an attorney, representing about a dozen towns and villages in the county, vis-a-vis the employment as a county legislator and they ruled that he was in conflict, and gave him the option of resigning either the board or eliminating his representation of the towns and villages. He chose to resign from the board.”
Mr. Lightfoot said examples of conflicts in Mr. Leader’s case included the issue over sales tax in the towns, villages and the city of Ogdensburg, and how the legislature sough to treat those municipalities differently than they are now, causing a conflict for Mr. Leader.
“Not only that, there are things like lawsuits that the towns could or would bring before the courts naming the county as a defendant,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “It hasn’t happened, it could happen. The possibility exists that there could be conflicts.”
Mr. Lightfoot would not comment on what led Mr. Leader to seek an opinion from the ethics board.
Mr. Lightfoot said he will create a committee of the legislative Democrats and Republicans to pick a party member to fill the two vacant positions left by Mrs. Arquiett and Mr. Leader.
“Obviously we are losing people who have a year under their belt, which equates to some experience and knowledge how county government works,” he said. “There will be a learning curve for whoever it is that is brought on board to finish out this year and perhaps run for election in the fall, but we’ve all gone through it . . . We’ve got a good core of people who have been there who know the ropes and I don’t think there is going to be any problem at all.”