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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, January 15, 2009
Ethics report clears Sherwood
By Melissa Hale-Spencer and Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND The town’s attorney, Richard Sherwood, was cleared last week of conflict-of-interest charges raised by the two Republican members of the Guilderland Town Board.
Robert Roche, an attorney hired by the town to work with its ethics committee, told the town board last Thursday that the committee was disappointed the charge had been leveled. It’s a “death knell” to a lawyer, Roche said, like saying a ballet dancer has two left feet. Conflict-of-interest charges, Roche said, go to the moral issue of being a lawyer.
He said he found no connection between Sherwood and Walgreens “not even that he bought Halloween candy there.”
Robert Haines, who chairs the ethics committee, echoed those sentiments this week. “We were saddened by the fact the charge was ever made,” said Haines.
Describing Roche as “very intelligent and thorough,” Haines said he was “100 percent satisfied” with his work. “He presented us with files an inch-and-a-half thick,” which included lease arrangements and mortgages as well as interviews, Haines said.
Haines, who owned a service station on Route 20 for decades and is a former chair of Guilderland’s Democratic Party, said of the accusations leveled by councilmen Warren Redlich and Mark Grimm, “It was strictly political.”
Sherwood said this week that he was relieved.
His father, he said, once gave him this advice: “If you’re going to get involved in politics, make sure you and your family have thick skin; they’re going to say things about you that aren’t true.”
“I’m grateful for the hard work of the ethics board,” said Sherwood. “I was confident I would be exonerated. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
He went on about Grimm and Redlich, “It’s unfortunate that they stooped to dirty politics; they don’t have any credibility.”
The accusations centered around the assessment of Walgreens, a drugstore built at the intersection of routes 20 and 155 in Guilderland. The initial assessment of $3.2 million was dropped to $2.7 million after the town board settled with Walgreens in June 2008. The vote was split along party lines, with Redlich and Grimm voting against the settlement, and the board’s three Democrats Supervisor Kenneth Runion, and councilmembers Patricia Slavick and Paul Pastore voting for it.
The town’s assessor at the time, Carol Wysomski, had recommended the settlement, based on income and expense statements from Walgreens. “I reviewed their income and expense statements and determined my value was higher than the true value,” Wysomski wrote in a statement attached to the ethics committee’s report. “This was their first full year in operation and they were able to give me their numbers.”
The town of Colonie had recently been through a similar assessment grievance, Runion said in June, and the town lost in court. Wysomski said at the time that the $2.7 million assessment was in line with Colonie’s.
This fall, Redlich alleged that Sherwood was “connected with the property owner,” a charge which Sherwood denied.
The Guilderland Walgreens is located on property owned by 155 & 20 of Albany LLP and, according to papers from the Albany County Clerk’s Office, that firm shares an address with Schuyler Companies, a firm for which Kenneth Segel serves as the chief executive officer.
Segel was a founding partner of the Segel, Goldman, Mazzotta & Siegel, P.C. law firm, managing partner Thomas Mazzotta told The Enterprise in October, but he retired in March of 2005.
Sherwood was an associate with that firm for about five years, starting in 1991, Mazzotta said. Both Sherwood and Segel are now of counsel for the firm. Segel is listed as being of counsel almost entirely to keep his name affiliated with the firm and to retain clients, Mazzotta said.
“In the last three-and-a-half years, he might have done about five hours worth of work,” Mazzotta said of Segel.
Sherwood sees Segel on an infrequent basis, he told The Enterprise, sometimes at a charity event or on the golf course.
In the ethics report, the entry on Redlich’s interview with Roche on behalf of the ethics board says, “Having made the complaint about the assessment, only to be advised that the assessment was brought on behalf of the tenant who has nothing to do with the [Segel] law firm (and hence even by tortured logic, nothing to do with Mr. Sherwood), he retorted that it was the responsibility, ultimately, of the owner of the property to pay the taxes if they are not paid and go into a default.”
Grimm and Redlich also raised issues about Walgreens’ mortgage, which was higher than its assessment.
“Assessments don’t equal value,” Steve Enfield told The Enterprise in November. Enfield is the managing director of Dexia Real Estate Capital Markets, which was called Artesia Mortgage Capital Corporation when it loaned Walgreens money on May 25, 2006.
“That mortgage represents several entities,” said Haines this week.
Before stating that “unfounded and frivolous accusations are costly,” the report concludes with a statement from Wysomski’s interview. “As the assessor so succinctly stated,” the report says, “‘This was an allegation born in suspicion and cultivated in a failure to investigate.’”
Roche told the town board last Thursday that the ethics committee had a two-pronged test the conflict-of-interest accusations and the idea that even the appearance of impropriety must be avoided.
“In politics, appearances are more important than reality,” he said.
Roche’s extensive investigations, he said, uncovered no conflict, no economic or financial relationship, and any appearance of impropriety “evaporated,” he said.
Grimm noted he had seen Segel’s and Sherwood’s name on the same law firm web page.
Roche responded that he had spoken with the firm’s managing partner. “The website was not updated since Christ was a second lieutenant,” he said.
Runion interjected that the website for Grimm’s Guilderland business “indicated you were operating a world business.”
Grimm responded that the “world headquarters” reference was tongue-in-cheek, and told Runion he didn’t have a sense of humor.
Redlich persisted, asking Roche if names being on the same website doesn’t speak to appearance.
Roche said it does, unless the most minimal investigation shows it’s not valid.
Redlich, a lawyer, then referred to the New York bar’s directory of lawyers, frequently called the red book, that indicates Segal and Sherwood work for the same firm, he said.
“Using the red book for that,” responded Roche, “is like asking a cop to check the phone book for his local criminals.”
Pastore asked Roche how the politically split Guilderland board could move forward and avoid a similar situation.
“A board moves at the pace set by its members,” said Roche. “We felt very badly we…were called upon to question the ethics of Mr. Sherwood.”
Redlich told Roche that he had been hired to “advise” the ethics committee and asked if Roche had, instead, conducted the investigation.
“They did not go out and duplicate what I was hired to do,” responded Roche of the ethics committee members.
Grimm told Roche he had voted against hiring him, and that hiring an attorney to guide the ethics committee was “a waste of taxpayer money.”