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KINGSTON – Ulster County Legislature Minority Leader David Donaldson
Friday accused Chairwoman Terry Bernardo of “sneaking” through
a $49,750 contract with the law firm for which her appointed legislature
attorney works by paying the firm, Bonacic, Krahulik, Cuddeback, McMahan
and Brady, LLP of Orange County.
Donaldson noted any contract under $50,000 does not need legislative approval
and he charged Bernardo effectively skirted that provision by offering
compensation just under that. But, Bernardo said the contract is lower
than the threshold amount because it is pro-rated since Chapman wasn’t
appointed until early January. Nevertheless, she said she will ask county
lawmakers to approve the arrangement.
Bernardo said Chapman is “one of the best known legislative and
municipal law attorneys in the region” and has represented municipalities
and their officials in court cases in a number of area counties.
The minority leader also asked Chapman to reveal any potential conflicts
of interest as legislative counsel since he is also counsel to Senator
John Bonacic and to the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering of
which Bonacic is chairman.
Donaldson said that Bonacic has commented that getting Sullivan County
a casino is his “number one priority.” Communities in Ulster
County, most notably Ellenville, have expressed interest in obtaining
casinos. The new owners of the Nevele Hotel are hoping to include gaming
as part of their redevelopment plan.
Donaldson also said the Bonacic law firm has also rendered legal advice
or has represented Bernardo and her family.
“It is my understanding that attorneys are required to fully disclose
the nature of potential conflicts of interest before engaging in the representation
of a potential client,” Donaldson wrote in a letter to Chapman dated
Friday. “Based upon the foregoing, I kindly ask that you disclose
to the legislative body whether either your current appointment as counsel
to the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, or your prior representation
of the present chairman of the legislature and her family, conflicts,
or, at the very least, appears to conflict, with your ability to serve
as legislative counsel to the Ulster County Legislature.”
Donaldson also questioned why Chapman would not be paid directly for his
services to Ulster County, but law firm managing partner Scott Bonacic
said since Chapman works for them, they pay all of his related employment
costs. “Why any legislator thinks the county is better off bearing
those costs, when our firm does so already, makes no sense,” said
Chapman, meanwhile, wrote back to Donaldson, saying he has no role in
casino license issuance, if the state constitution is changed, and has
no expectation of having a role.
As for Donaldson’s allegation that he has rendered legal advice
to Bernardo and her family, Chapman denied it, but said as legislature
counsel, he “absolutely” offers legal advice to her “on
a regular basis.”
Chapman said that people are “sick and tired of politics”
and that they want their government officials “to address issues
such as economic development, lower taxes and a higher quality of life
in our region.”