In response to the 4-6-24 TU online story, Lee put out the following statement. 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:                                                                      FOR RELEASE:
LIBBY POST, 518-857-6788, libby@progressiveelections.com           IMMEDIATE
LEE KINDLON, 518-331-2810                                                                     APRIL 6, 2024

KINDLON STATEMENT ON SOARES GIVING BACK FUNDS THAT HE SHOULD NEVER HAVE TAKEN IN THE FIRST PLACE

“Author C.S. Lewis once said, ‘Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.’

“Instead when nobody was watching, 20-year incumbent, Albany County District Attorney David Soares, pocketed $23,000 meant for his employees. When he got caught, he blamed everyone but himself. Since I decided to enter the race for DA, I’ve been able to bring together a coalition of elected officials, town committees and regular folks who share my vision of restoring integrity, honesty and accountability to the District Attorney’s office.

“So, while David hopes that by paying the money back this will put the issue to rest, he knows that he’s woken a sleeping giant.”

–30–

“What I’d like to hear is, ‘I made a serious mistake and I won’t do it again’ — that’s what I need to hear,” Albany County Legislator Mark Grimm told District Attorney David Soares during Wednesday night’s joint meeting of the body’s audit and law committees.

“Well, that you’re not going to hear,” Soares responded.

It was a telling moment that summed up how Mr. Soares has taken a bad situation and made it worse by insisting that his decision to grant himself $23,000 in bonuses funded by state grants in 2023 was entirely proper, when in fact it was a dumb move from almost every point of view — in terms of the law, basic fairness and public relations.

It has been almost three weeks since Mr. Soares announced he would give the money back rather than allow the “distraction” of the controversy to get in the way of his office’s important work. (He hasn’t sent the check yet.) At that time, as well as during his appearance before the County Legislature, he cast himself as the victim of a political hit job orchestrated by Albany County Comptroller Susan Rizzo.

He complained that the fiscal watchdog had failed to alert him to her concerns over his 11 percent self-imposed compensation boost — which, we subsequently learned, came his way just weeks after he was informed that he couldn’t give himself an 8 percent raise that he had attempted to put across. (The district attorney chalked that one up to an innocent error.) 

It was only two years ago that Ms. Rizzo’s office clamped down on Mr. Soares’ improper use of forfeiture funds — a scandal that should have sent a clear message to the district attorney that he needed to revamp his bookkeeping practices. Instead, his recent self-largesse has embarrassed him as well as his staff. If it’s true that Mr. Soares has political enemies within county government, his conduct has provided them with enough ammunition to raze a village. 

 What should be clear by now to the members of the County Legislature is that last fall, when Mr. Soares sought a resolution to accept the grant funds, he failed to make clear to them that he was carving off a juicy piece for himself, or that — as far as we know — not a single other district attorney in the state made the same decision. Mr. Soares even released a video that claimed a state agency had approved the bonus, although the full correspondence — obtained by the Times Union’s Steve Hughes — revealed that the thumbs-up came in response to a question about whether the funds could be used to pay assistant district attorneys, not their elected boss.

Whether or not this mess ends up resulting in Mr. Soares’ defeat in his reelection campaign, it has left his reputation badly damaged. Here is a scandal he can’t blame on changes to the criminal justice system or troublesome judges. Prosecutors are supposed to be adept at placing blame: Rather than lash out at others as he casts about for a culprit here, the district attorney would do well to spend some time in front of a mirror.

 By Times Union Editorial Board

Editorials are the institutional view of the Times Union. They represent the consensus of the editorial board, whose members are George Hearst, publisher; Casey Seiler, editor; Akum Norder, senior editor for opinion; Jay Jochnowitz, editor at large; Tena Tyler, senior editor for engagement; and Chris Churchill, columnist and editorial writer. While the Times Union’s news coverage frequently informs our editorials, the board’s opinions have no bearing on that coverage.

 

ALBANY — Albany County District Attorney David Soares claims attention to the bonuses he gave himself amounts to a manufactured controversy and a political hit. His accusation, if we decide to take it seriously, raises a question: Who delivered the blow?

Is Soares suggesting the alleged hit is the work of county Comptroller Sue Rizzo? She says the bonuses totaling roughly $23,000 were discovered during a routine review, leading the county to ask an outside law firm to investigate. Rizzo subsequently contacted state officials, including the comptroller and attorney general.

Or does Soares claim that there’s a broader conspiracy here?

“We don’t think Comptroller Rizzo was acting alone but was taking orders from someone else.” Soares said via email. “That person is Jeff Jamison, who is legal counsel to Albany County Executive Dan McCoy. It is naïve to assume neither of those individuals are involved.”

As evidence, Soares points to Rizzo’s having said she wasn’t aware of the outside legal review until Jan. 30, after it was completed.

“If that were true, who authorized the use of what is likely thousands of dollars in county funds to secure an outside legal opinion, without the knowledge of the county’s fiscal watchdog?” Soares asked, adding the work by Bond, Schoeneck & King would have required approval by the county executive’s office.

“Any claim of ignorance on the part of Mr. Jamison and Mr. McCoy is tantamount to an admission that the county executive has no control of his own operation,” Soares said.

Well, McCoy hasn’t claimed ignorance of the investigation. In fact, to my knowledge, Mc-Coy hadn’t said anything at all about Soares’ decision to pay himself $22,308 from state Aid to Prosecution grant money provided to boost staff retention and morale.

But on Monday, his spokesperson, Mary Rozak, responded forcefully to Soares’ accusation and provided a detailed timeline showing the county’s process at work.

“This is not political, and this is not a political hit,” Rozak said, adding that McCoy knew there was an issue requiring the hiring of outside counsel but did not know specifics. “There’s a process, and we followed the process… Is the DA suggesting that if you know of impropriety you can’t report it because it’s always going to be political? That makes no sense.”

Rizzo, meanwhile, told me she “didn’t talk to Dan McCoy at all” and said Soares is “deflecting.”

“I’m not involved in any conspiracy,” Rizzo added. “I’m a comptroller, and that’s what I’ve got to focus on.”

The broader, more important question is whether Soares did something wrong. If granting himself the bonus money was improper or even illegal, as the outside legal review suggested, few will grant the district attorney much sympathy, political hit or not.

If you think you have political enemies, it’s wise not to hand them ammunition.

Soares, though, insists he didn’t do anything wrong, despite having pledged to give the money back. In a County Legislature hearing last week, he and some lawmakers suggested that questions regarding the money could have been handled with a few congenial phone calls and without the drama and fuss.

That sounded a bit too chummy to me — and even worse to Rozak.

“Excuse me, but what is that? That’s a cover-up,” she said. “That’s a violation of the public trust.”

Those of you unfamiliar with Albany County might be surprised to learn that all the major players in this story are Democrats. This is intra-party warfare.

Soares maintains that he was targeted because of his loud opposition to elements of bail reform and other changes by Democrats to the state’s criminal justice statutes. Regarding McCoy, he said: “There are issues regarding personnel that go back a number of years… I can’t be specific about those issues, but it’s safe to say there is lingering animosity.”

For what it’s worth, I think the bonuses are indefensible — an egregious error in judgment, particularly from a district attorney who, with a base salary of more than $200,000, was already the county’s highest-paid elected official.

But will they matter? Will they cost Soares his job?

Soares was a reelection shoe-in a month ago, lacking an opponent, but that’s changed. Attorney Lee Kindlon has entered the Democratic primary, creating a replay of the 2012 race, which Soares won handily.

For Soares, then, the scenario could be worse. Though the bonuses apparently cost him the party’s endorsement, Soares can rest easier knowing Kindlon also didn’t get it. Nobody did, which would seem to leave Soares in decent electoral shape.

Barring additional revelations or criminal charges, here’s betting the bonuses will play a relatively small role in the coming election. The consequential topics will be crime, bail reform and quality-of-life issues central to the lives of voters.

“The violence and all the murders in Albany?” Kindlon said. “(Soares) owns that and blaming others can only get you so far.”