K’hook councilwoman runs afoul of law

State inspector general says Mary Kramarchyk violated Hatch Act restrictions

KINDERHOOK–The Office of the State Inspector General has determined that Town Councilwoman Mary Kramarchyk, who works for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, violated the state Public Officers law, DEC policy and the federal Hatch Act law for the past eight years by holding public office and holding a position in the local Republican Party.

That same report found that DEC had failed to address the situation and that her superiors at the agency were ignorant of the DEC’s own policies.

Stephen DelGiacco, a spokesperson for the inspector general’s office, said neither of the laws in the case is a criminal statute.

The report recommends that Ms. Kramarchyk be disciplined, and the DEC has said it will counsel her and may consider other disciplinary action. She could face a fine depending on how the public integrity commission rules in the matter. The report will also be sent to a federal official and to the state Commission on Public Integrity for further review.

Ms. Kramarchyk, who is completing her second four-year term on the board, could not be reached for comment, and it was unclear whether she will leave her position on the Town Board before her term expires at the end of December. She is not running for reelection this fall.

The inspector general’s office made its findings public in a Final Report issued September 10. The report says the investigation leading to the charges began with a confidential complaint July 18, 2008. Ms. Kramarchyk was subsequently questioned about her involvement in the Kinderhook Republican Club and her position as a member of the Town Board.

“Kramarchyk claimed that she was not aware of the Hatch Act or that her activities were in violation of state laws, regulations, or DEC policy and procedures,” according to the 10-page report.

The Hatch Act is a federal law that restricts the political activities of people principally employed by the state, county or municipal executive agencies connected with programs financed in whole or in part by loans or grants from the federal government or federal agencies.

“The Hatch Act expressly prohibits an employee covered by the act from being a candidate for public office in a partisan election, which is any election in which any candidate is running for office as a member of a political party,” says the report. The act’s purpose is “to remove partisan political influence from the administration of federal funds and inspire confidence in the government by eliminating the appearance of influence,” says the report.

The inspector general also charged that Ms. Kramarchyck violated state Public Officers Law, because she earned an annual $3,500 salary as councilwoman without receiving official approval and because she served as an officer in a partisan political club while working at DEC as a policy maker.

DEC policy calls for compliance with the Hatch Act, which applies to any employee who performs any functions connected to federally financed activities, and reads in part, “employees who are subject to provisions of the Hatch Act may not be a candidate for elective public or private office in a partisan election, including primary and runoff elections.”  

The report says Ms. Kramarchyk began her career in state government in the mid-1980s, holding a variety of positions, including as an aide or staffer to several state senators and former Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey Ross.

Ms. Kramarchyk started working for the DEC in 1996 as an executive assistant in the commissioner’s office. In 2001, she went to work in the DEC’s Urban and Community Forestry Division, which is funded in part by the U.S. Forest Service, and awards competitive cost-share grants to communities to encourage them to actively enhance and care for trees, according to the report. She is currently a community participation specialist 1, which is a “protected civil service position.”

The IG’s report says that Ms. Kramarchyk became involved with Republican events and organizations when she moved to Kinderhook in 1998. She became vice-president, then president of the Kinderhook Republican Club “around 1999 or 2000” and was involved with the club for several years. She was elected to two four-year terms on the Kinderhook Town Board as a Republican candidate in November 2001 and again in 2005; her current term expires at the end of this year.

Ms. Kramarchyk resigned her leadership position with the town Republican Club in 2004 after receiving a phone call from an attorney in then-Governor George Pataki’s Appointment Office, who told her she could not hold a position in the club while being employed by the DEC as a designated policy maker. When questioned by the inspector general’s office, Ms. Kramarchyk said that during her conversation with the Pataki administration attorney, neither her elected post on the Town Board nor the Hatch Act was discussed.

Not only did Ms. Kramarchyk claim to be unaware of her violations of law and that DEC policy required agency approval before engaging in outside employment, she told the investigator that her supervisors knew she ran for and won political office, but never told her there was any problem or reason for concern.  

She is quoted in the report as saying, “They should have known.” She also said that asking for approval to seek political office never occurred to her because she viewed her state work and politics as separate things.

The IG’s report says that Ms. Kramarchyk’s “profession of ignorance” is undermined by a 2003 letter from then-DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty informing Ms. Kramarchyk of her responsibilities as a policy maker. The letter specifically advised Ms. Kramachyk that she was required to evaluate her outside activities for potential conflicts of interest and call any to her supervisor’s attention. Close scrutiny of political activities and office holding were specifically mentioned by the commissioner.

Ms. Kramarchyk said she didn’t remember receiving the letter “but indicated that all policy makers receive these types of letters,” says the IG’s report.

Like Ms. Kramarchyk, “her supervisors at DEC claimed ignorance of DEC’s own policies and federal and state laws on such matters, and failed to make any connection between relevant guidelines and [Ms.] Kramarchyk’s activities,” says the IG’s report.

Mentioned as a potential conflict between Ms. Kramarchyk’s DEC job and her position on the Kinderhook Town Board was the board’s “dealing with a controversial commercial retail shopping center proposal and its possible impact on the environment and the community.”

While the town’s Planning Board was lead agency and accepted a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project called Widewaters Commons at the intersection of Routes 9/9H and State Farm Road, Town Board minutes reflect that Ms. Kramarchyk actively supported the commercial project and opposed a moratorium on commercial development. 

In its findings, the IG’s office recommends that the DEC take appropriate action against Ms. Kramarchyk for her violations of the Hatch Act, state law and DEC policies and refers her apparent violations of the Public Officers Law to the Commission on Public Integrity and will provide a copy of its report to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for any action it deems appropriate.

Walter Ayers, the public information officer for the commission, said this week that his office did receive the referral of the Kramarchyck case from the inspector general and will review the case. If a majority of  commission members vote that she did violate the Public Officers Law, they will issue a “notice of reasonable cause.” At that point she can plead guilty or the matter can go to a hearing. If she is ultimately guilty the penalty can include a fine of up to $10,000, depending on the subsection of the law she violated.

Mr. Ayers had no timetable for the outcome.

The IG also calls on the DEC to take action against Ms. Kramarchyk’s supervisors and managers for their failure to ensure that her activities abided by all laws, regulations and policies and that the DEC conduct training on the laws, rules and regulations related to outside employment and political activities.

In its response to the IG, the DEC said it would counsel Ms. Kramarchyk to make her fully aware of the laws and policies and will determine if further disciplinary action is appropriate based on the Commission on Public Integrity’s review of her conduct.

The DEC also said, among other things, that it “will determine if further disciplinary action is appropriate following the Commission on Public Integrity’s review of [Ms.] Kramarchyk’s conduct.”

As for other DEC staff, the agency told the inspector general’s office it would meet with Ms. Kramarchyk’s supervisors to make them aware of policies and will conduct “refresher training.”

Kinderhook Supervisor Doug McGivney told The Columbia Paper late Tuesday that Ms. Kramarchyk is not running for re-election and he has heard nothing about the possibility that she may resign before  her term expires.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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