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Keene supervisor reprimanded for pumping town gas

Determination finds no intentional wrongdoing

June 2, 2012

The Essex County Ethics Board has determined that Keene's town supervisor did not intend to defraud taxpayers when he used the town gas pump to fill his personal vehicle.

But the board did reprimand Bill Ferebee for engaging in an activity that may have undermined the public's trust in an elected official.

Michael Orticelle is chairman of the five-member Ethics Board.

"We acted on a complaint by two citizens and interviewed people, looked at documentation," he said. "It was a unanimous decision that his actions, while not intentional, did in fact violate county ethics. We decided to reprimand him, which was one of our options, so he and others understand that the behaviors are not condoned."

Ferebee said the ruling shows there was no attempt of fraud or misconduct on his part. He said he's tried to focus on representing his town rather than on the complaints to the Ethics Board.

Ferebee had admitted to using the town's gas pump on Jan. 10 to fill his personal vehicle with 14.6 gallons of gas after he ran out of fuel. He immediately contacted the town board about the matter and the next day wrote a check to the town for $43.50, the amount the town had paid for that amount of gas.

The town board heard some town residents' concerns about the matter in February, made sure it was reported to state auditors, investigated and, after determining it was an isolated incident, did not take further action.

On March 27 and April 6, the two citizens filed written complaints with the Ethics Board, expressing concern that Ferebee had violated the county ethics law enacted in October 2010.

The ruling, announced Thursday, states that Ferebee did violate the ethics law, but there's no evidence of fraud or official misconduct. A copy of the ruling obtained by the Enterprise shows that the Ethics Board cited Ferebee for using municipal resources for personal use, and acting in a manner that arose suspicion among the public.

The board placed a letter of reprimand in Ferebee's personnel file.

"While there was no intent to commit a criminal act, his actions did violate the public's trust," the ruling reads.

Donna Combs of Keene was one of the people who filed a complaint with the Ethics Board.

"This wasn't a personal thing; Bill has been friend of mine for years," she told the Enterprise. "When you're in the capacity he's in as an elected official, you have to go by the rules and be held accountable and pay the consequences."

In addition to Orticelle, the Ethics Board includes Frank X. Kearns of Jay, James M. Herrmann of Westport, Phyllis L. Klein of Willsboro and Alexander R. Shmulsky of Ticonderoga. Twenty-five people originally applied for seats on the board. They were interviewed and vetted several times before being appointed.

Orticelle said the board has two ongoing cases that are still being investigated. He said that prior to ruling on the Ferebee case, the board provided an opinion to the county attorney's office.

"Basically, they asked us to determine if the hiring of a specific individual would be a conflict of interest," Orticelle said. The board ultimately determined that the hiring didn't violate any ethics.

Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@adirondack



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