Essex County Clerk Joe Provoncha
Two days after reports surfaced about a criminal investigation into the Essex County Clerk’s Office, the Essex County Board of Supervisors debated whether they could talk about the matter in executive session.
In the end, the board opted against the session, and instead decided to allow the matter to be handled through the county ethics board.
A newspaper in Fulton, Oswego County, also named the Valley News, reported over the weekend that Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne has been assigned as a special prosecutor concerning possible improprieties with Essex County’s bidding process and specifically the awarding of a contract for a digital imaging and indexing system at the clerk’s office.
Reports also stated that Champagne was appointed as the special prosecutor after the Essex County District Attorney’s Office recused itself from the case.
The issue stems from the awarding of a contract to Info Quick Solutions of Liverpool for $76,800 annually, under the recommendation of County Clerk Joseph Provoncha, which was not the lowest bid.
The investigation also pertains to e-mails that were exchanged between Info Quick representatives and the clerk’s office which were acquired by the Fulton County newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.
At the Oct. 3 meeting of the county board, attorney Daniel Manning asked for an executive session to discuss the, “employment history of a particular person or persons,” and that the matter may or may not relate to Provoncha and some of the employees within the office.
“In your opinion, is it appropriate for this board to be in executive session concerning an elected official,” questioned Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston.
“I would say yes,” Manning responded.
Moriah Supervisor Thomas “Tom” Scozzafava was the biggest opponent of the executive session, stating that if it were him as an elected official being questioned, he would want everything to be out in the open.
“With employees I can understand an executive session,” Scozzafava said. “I have a real problem going into an executive session over an elected official that we have no say over other than the budget for that department. I don’t see any charges that have been filed. Can you go into an executive session based on what is in the newspapers? I’d rather have you bring it out here on the floor.”
Lewis Supervisor David Blades asked if the matter was set to go before the recently created county ethics board.
“We have an ethics board, and this should go before the ethics board and they should render a decision,” Blades said.
“It is going before the board,” County Chairman Randall “Randy” Douglas said. Douglas and Manning added later that a meeting of the ethics board has been scheduled for within the next two weeks.
“It’s going to take a while, because there is a lot of stuff there,” Douglas said.
“I looked at what was sent through the FOIL request and I have many concerns,” Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey said. “There are things that definitely need to be considered.”
Douglas said the need for an executive session pertained to the employees that may also be involved in the matter.
“It could also pertain to other employees,” Douglas said about the issue. “I got a legal opinion from the county attorney of how best to proceed.”
After discussion, no one offered a motion to adjourn to executive session to discuss the matter in private.
“We will leave it up to the ethics board at this point,” Douglas concluded.
During discussions, a pair of supervisors expressed their belief that the matter was intended to hurt Provoncha’s chances of being re-elected in the Nov. 8 General Election, where he is running against challenger Brent Vosburg.
“(Provoncha) has given this county 20 years of service,” St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency said. “We are all acting like we know that there are charges. It’s like a vendetta and I am so upset with what is going on in here. This is a threat to his re-election campaign.”
“This is old-fashioned election year politics,” Newcomb Supervisor George Canon said. “It’s just the same crap.”
This story has been edited to reflect that the Valley News referenced is out of Fulton in Oswego County, not out of Fulton County