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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 2, 2008
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND Supervisor Kenneth Runion, a Democrat on the town board’s three-member majority, has asked that Republican Councilman Warren Redlich recuse himself from the town’s budget process.
“He doesn’t want to answer questions about the budget,” Redlich said yesterday in response to Runion's request, which came in a letter to Redlich dated Sept. 30.
“This letter is in response to your e-mail containing a number of questions concerning the proposed 2009 Town Budget,” begins Runion's letter. “It is my understanding that your law firm still continues to represent clients in the Guilderland Justice Court… As a Town Board member, you have shared responsibility over the town budget and the hiring, firing and discipline of town employees. The town budget is voted on as a whole package. There is no line item vote. As a number of your questions concern the police department and court, I believe you have a conflict of interest which prohibits you from participating in the budget process.”
In August, Runion had sent a memo to town board members detailing the budget schedule and stating, “A change is order.” Since Runion believes that Redlich has a conflict of interest, he did away with the three workshop meetings usually held for the board to discuss the budget, saying Redlich “may have an issue participating in one or more of the department budgets that would be discussed at the workshops.”
Instead, the board received a copy of the proposed budget and then held a special meeting on Sept. 23 where Runion explained it with a PowerPoint presentation.
Before that meeting, Redlich e-mailed several pages of questions regarding the budget to board members and the media. Many of his questions identified the budget line concerned and asked why it went up or down and what caused the change. When asked for answers after the presentation, Runion said that he would respond in writing. Yesterday, Runion said he’d be happy to answer all of Redlich’s questions after The Redlich Law Firm commits to not accepting Guilderland cases.
“I’m not going to cut my income because Ken Runion wants to make a show,” Redlich responded through The Enterprise. His firm, which includes five lawyers, has a screen, he said, so he is in no way involved with the cases his associates are handling in Guilderland.
“That’s just a charade,” Runion said of the screen, maintaining that, if one lawyer in a practice has a conflict of interest, all lawyers in the practice do.
“Ken Runion is not my guide on ethics,” Redlich said, adding with sarcasm, “I don’t think I could sleep at night.”
Soon after Redlich took his seat in January on what had been an all-Democratic town board, town justices Denise Randall and John Bailey both Democrats wrote to Judge Thomas Breslin of the Albany County Court, “Because the Town Board sets the Court’s budget, including the salaries of the Judges, and that of the Police Department, whose officers regularly testify in the attorney’s cases… we perceived a potential conflict of interest.” They go on to reference opinions provided to them by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics which suggest that they recuse themselves.
“It should be noted that the People do not allege that Mr. Redlich has behaved improperly at any time,” concludes a Feb. 25 response to the judges’ letter from District Attorney David Soares’s office. “…Mr. Redlich must be disqualified from appearing in his capacity as a defense attorney in Guilderland Town Court… The purpose of disqualifying the lawyer/legislator/town board member is to avoid the public perception that he is misusing his or her influence over the police and courts to benefit his client.”
The cases that Redlich had had before the Guilderland Court when he took office last winter were transferred to the Bethlehem Town Court, Redlich said, which he thought was fair.
The Guilderland Police are still involved in some of those cases, even if the Guilderland town judges aren’t, Runion said, which still constitutes a conflict.
“What’s underlying this,” Redlich answered, is the implication that Redlich would seek retribution towards an officer who testified against his client in one of his firm’s cases. “It’s offensive to suggest I would do that,” he said.
“Those budgets are over 50 percent of the town budget,” Runion said of the police department and court budgets. Later, he reiterated that it isn’t a line-item vote and said, “If you have a conflict on one aspect of a budget, you have a conflict with the whole budget.”
“He set this process up,” Redlich said of Runion’s budget schedule. Now, Redlich said, “He’s manufacturing an excuse not to answer questions.”