Richard Blumenthal, the Republican and Conservative Party candidate vying for incumbent New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.’s seat this November charged last week that the Sag Harbor native risks a conflict of interest in serving both as the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees’ village attorney and as a state assemblyman.
Thiele, a former Republican who switched his party loyalty to the Independence Party last October, is seeking re-election on that party line, as well as the Democratic and Working Families lines. He has been a member of the state assembly since 1995.
“Assemblymemeber Thiele and Sag Harbor Village Attorney Thiele are the same person,” stated Blumenthal in a press release issued last week. “That’s two taxpayer-salaried jobs, two different government constituencies, two loyalties, one person.”
Blumenthal cited a recent Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting where the issue of a commercial mooring field operating without regulation in state waters off Sag Harbor Village’s waterfront as an example of a “risk for a conflict of interest,” noting Sag Harbor Deputy Mayor Tim Culver had said he would work with Thiele as a village attorney to try and find a solution to the problem.
At a village board meeting earlier this month, residents John Brannen and Anita Rainford raised the issue of the non-regulated mooring field, saying it has created a safety hazard and presented issues with navigation.
“Mr. Thiele owes an explanation to both of his public employers as to how he can represent both sides at the same time without a conflict of interest,” said Blumenthal. “Additionally, both the people of Sag Harbor and Assembly District 2 have a right to know if a conflict has occurred before, in order to determine if the conflict outcome was damaging to the interests of one or both.”
On Monday, Thiele denied any conflict of interest, calling the press release one in a series from “the candidate backed by the Crookhaven Republican machine, and this is what they do.”
Noting that he is not in fact salaried by the Village of Sag Harbor, but a contract employee, Thiele said seven years ago, when serving as the village attorney for Westhampton Beach, he approached the state ethics committee and they rendered the opinion that he could in fact operate as both a village attorney and state assemblyman.
“I am a good enough attorney to know to get an official opinion,” he said.
Thiele added that as an independent contractor in village government, he does not collect health insurance coverage or pension credits, and said in his tenure as village attorney not a single conflict has arisen, particularly because Sag Harbor Village has a second village attorney, Anthony Tohill. Tohill, he said, would represent the village in front of any state agency should that need arise.
“All that really was, with the mooring field, was determining who has jurisdiction,” he added. “For the record, it is in state waters and Mr. Brannen will have to raise that complaint with the office of general services. Tim has been advised of this as well.”
“There is absolutely no conflict here,” continued Thiele. “My position with the village is completely transparent and disclosed and if there ever is a possible conflict, Tony Tohill would handle that. That has been the agreement from the beginning – that I would not appear before any state agency on behalf of the village.”
Thiele added it is common for state assembly members to have positions elsewhere, and often it is in the legal field with undisclosed, private clients.
“The only client I have is the Village of Sag Harbor and everyone knows it,” he said, adding that while Blumenthal incorrectly stated Thiele receives two government salaries — one from Sag Harbor and one from the State of New York — should Blumenthal be elected he will leave a six-figure guidance department job, for which he took a four percent raise this year, and collect his retirement along with his pay as a state assemblyman.
“I don’t want to throw rocks, but if you throw rocks at me, I am going to throw them back,” he said.
In related news, this week the New York State Supreme Court has rejected Blumenthal’s appeal to remove Thiele from the Independence Party line for the November election. Blumenthal objected to Thiele’s petition before the Suffolk County Board of Elections, with that board disagreeing with Blumenthal and finding Thiele’s petition signatures valid.
Blumenthal then brought the matter to the State Supreme Court with Justice Kevin J. Kerrigan rejecting his claim that Thiele’s petition did not meet state laws.