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DA DECIDES OFFICE PETITIONS NOT A VIOLATION

Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III said Wednesday he does not think county human resources director Albert T. Joseph violated the law by placing an election petition in the Civil Service office for employees to sign.

Legislator Robert L. Seger, D-North Tonawanda, blew the whistle on Republican Joseph earlier this month, after hearing that a petition seeking signatures to obtain a write-in opportunity in the 138th Assembly District GOP primary had been placed in the office.

In letter to Murphy last Friday, Seger charged that Joseph had violated state Civil Service Law as well as the county's Code of Ethics. Murphy responded in writing that he thinks Joseph did not violate the law and "does not seem" to have violated the ethics code.

Seger grumbled, "I'm kind of disappointed. I asked for an investigation and I got an opinion. . . . (Murphy) should have done his job. He should have gone over to the office and interviewed the people." But he said he would not pursue the matter further.

Joseph said, "I'm glad that it's over and we can get back to county business." He said earlier he expected to receive a letter of reprimand from the Legislature's Human Resources Committee, but that won't happen, according to committee chairman Gerald R. DeFlippo, R-Lockport.

"(Joseph) apologized to us," DeFlippo said, adding the committee's attitude "was something like, 'Slap him on the hand and get on with business.' Sometimes these Democrats try to push an issue that really isn't an issue."

The county Republican organization mobilized its forces to win the write-in right after it appeared that the party's endorsed candidate in the district, Robert A. Daly of Niagara Falls, had made errors on his nominating petitions that might cause him to be disqualified from the ballot. Daly's petitions were later upheld by the Board of Elections and survived a court challenge as well.

Seger complained that Joseph inquired about his employees' party affiliations, as he would have had to do if he were seeking valid Republican petition signatures. Murphy noted that the state law bars such inquiries, "but only if it is 'a test of fitness' for holding office."

Murphy said another subsection of the law Seger was relying upon bars solicitation of monetary contributions from Civil Service workers, but does not mention petition signatures.

As for the Code of Ethics, it says county employees are not to "compel" any non-elected employee "to participate in an election campaign." Murphy wrote, "I am not sure whether the County Board of Ethics would interpret a signature on a party petition as 'participation' in a political campaign."

Murphy recommended that the Code of Ethics be amended to specifically bar collection of petition signatures in county offices. Joseph said, "I would concur with that. If that had been spelled out, I wouldn't have been in the predicament I was in. . . . At the time the incident happened, I did not know I was violating or appearing to violate anything."

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