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Binder and Goodman call for rule change

By Fritz Mayer
June 29, 2011

MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County Legislators Leni Binder and Jodi Goodman have called for a changes to the rules of the legislature in the wake of accusations that the two had improperly received seats for performances at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The legislators have said in the past that they have been seated in the box seat of orchid dealer and philanthropist Stuart Salinger, and said they did not believe they had done anything wrong.

In the past, both have voted twice in favor of admitting parcels owned by Salenger into the county’s Agricultural District Number Four against strong opposition from some of the neighbors; an application for another parcel is now pending before the legislature.

Salenger’s neighbor, Kathryn Barnhardt, and others testified at a public hearing two weeks ago, that Binder and Goodman should recuse themselves from the votes.

But according to a news release from the county manager’s office, Binder asserted that current rules of the legislature do not allow lawmakers to abstain to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, but only to avoid an actual conflict of interest.

Goodman said, "We believe it would be preferable to amend the rules of the legislature to permit a legislator to abstain under circumstances where a legislator has a close relationship with, or has been the beneficiary of hospitality from, a person or firm who has an interest in a matter pending before the legislature."

On the other hand, the current county code of ethics, which is a separate document than the rules, currently says that a legislator can not accept a gift of more than $75 in value “under any circumstances in which it could be reasonably inferred that the gift was intended that the gift was intended to influence him or her or could reasonably be expected to influence him or her in the performance of his or her official duties or was intended as an award for any official action on his or her part.”

A spokesperson for Bethel Woods said the value of Salenger’s box is “private consumer information that Bethel Woods does not give out,” and added, “there are too many variables to determine the cost of the tickets in question.” Information on the organization’s website says “starting at $5,500, boxes feature two, four, six or eight premium seats for you and your guests at every Main Stage performance.”