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COLUMN: Queensbury town attorney has ethics problem

The town of Queensbury has an ethics problem with its lawyer, John Aspland.

Aspland, a managing partner in Fitzgerald Baker Morris Firth, is intimately involved in dirty politics in the town. That is not right and it should never be permitted by the legal counsel in any community.

A string of seven emails sent between 2:13 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 and 11:51 a.m. Aug. 15, 2017 confirm that.

Michael Grasso, chairman of the Warren County Republican Committee, sent an email to Aspland, Queensbury Town Board members Brian Clements and Doug Irish and Queensbury Town Board candidate Hal Bain on Aug. 14, 2017.

In the email, Grasso reviewed the merits of a letter Bain dropped off from his doctor, and whether it was enough to get Bain removed from the Republican primary ballot. Grasso indicates the only way for Bain to get off the ballot is by a judge’s order.

Aspland, the town attorney and vice chairman of the Queensbury Republican Committee, responds the next morning at 8:22 and writes, “I do not think this will work” and explains why.

Eight minutes later Irish chimes in, “I think if we want to get Tony (Metivier) out of office we will need the committee in Ward 1 to step up to get Hal (Bain) elected and then have him resign before taking office and let the board appoint for however long election law allows. I think it would be 1 year in that case. Unfortunately, we know many of the Ward 1 committee people have been actively supporting Tony (Metivier), so I am not sure how effective that would be. If Hal is in a position where he cannot campaign at all, I think we will wind up losing this race to a Democrat, RINO, call what you want he’s certainly not a Republican in my eyes.”

Five minutes later, Aspland responded, “This would be optimal.”

“Optimal.”

Consider that for a second.

The town attorney signs off on a plan — some would call it a scheme — to keep a Republican candidate on the ballot and get him elected even though he might not be able to serve. In my eyes, what Aspland views as “optimal” is a plan to defraud the voters in Ward 1.

It is clear to me that Aspland’s ethics have been compromised. And no matter how much he contests that conclusion, any advice or counsel he gives in the future that goes against the views of Metivier, a fellow Republican I might add, or Democratic Supervisor John Strough will be suspect.

Citizens should be rightfully concerned over whether he serves his client — the town — or his party.

Back on Nov. 21, 2016, Supervisor John Strough predicted this might happen.

When Town Board members Irish (the current chairman of the Queensbury Republicans), Clements and Bill VanNess (the previous chairman of the Queensbury Republicans) voted to change the town’s legal representation to Fitzgerald Morris Baker Firth because the law firm would be less expensive, Strough pointed out that at least three lawyers in the firm serve on the Warren County Republican Committee, the firm had contributed money to Republican political candidates and committees and Aspland had previously represented Irish in an election dispute against Irish’s Democratic opponent in 2015.

Metivier agreed that was not right either, and the Republicans have tried to punish him ever since.

What is even more galling is that Irish, Clements and VanNess voted to replace a law firm — Miller, Mannix, Schachner & Hafner — which has a policy of not allowing its lawyers to serve on political committees or make political contributions.

That is how it should be.

You can now make a case that Irish, Clements and VanNess cast their votes not because it saved the town money, but because they wanted to take care of some colleagues in their party.

Even if that is not the case, that is what it looks like.

This should be the pervading, overriding issue in the upcoming town election. Until Queensbury removes partisanship from its business dealings, it will be viewed as corrupt.

And any candidate who believes the status quo is acceptable should be viewed as corrupt as well.

n Tingley is the editor of The Post-Star and may be reached via email at tingley@poststar.com. His blog, “The Front Page,” discusses issues about newspapers and journalism. You can also follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kentingley.

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