Ethics Board nominee rejected for being too political

Jan 16, 2017

With the Erie County Legislature on the ballot this fall, the political year is starting with a fight over membership on the county Board of Ethics.

"It just looks a little too political and we need to take politics out of the ethics board."

That is Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo explaining why the legislature rejected the appointment of Matthew Pelkey as a Republican member of the board, filling an opening. County Executive Poloncarz made the appointment and at the last minute offered to pull it back to allow a committee interview to avoid rejection.

Lorigo says Pelkey is too political for a board that should be apolitical.

Matthew Pelkey (left) and Amber Small.

"He serves on the board of Women's Elect, which endorses candidates," Lorigo said. "To take politics out of the ethics committee, you're not even supposed to serve on that committee if you're a member of a political party. So, that's one thing. He also advises the ECIDA's Venture Fund and he's married to a recently prominent political candidate. The optics don't look good."

Clearly, appointments like this are common on all levels of government, although this one is a little unusual since Pelkey is married to Amber Small, a Democrat, who lost a State Senate race to Chris Jacobs in November.

"I know this individual," said Buffalo Legislator Peter Savage. "He's a resident of the Third Legislative District and I believe that there shouldn't be a presumption of guilt or inclusion with respect to conflicts without any showing of that."

"He's also someone who has written extensively on ethics and on ethical laws, so he's the kind of person you would expect to want to have on the Board of Ethics, someone who understands ethics laws," Poloncarz said. "I'm disappointed. I'm going to submit another name. I told them I fully expect them to support that individual and, who knows, they may regret not having supported Mr. Pelkey."

There are tensions across Franklin Street between Poloncarz and legislators, with control up this year. At the same time, there has to be some cooperation to make government work. It will take time to see if this particular appointment is a stand-alone or if there will be fights from now until Election Day.