Former Carmel Assessor Paul Jonke, found to have violated the town’s ethics code by its Board of Ethics, escaped punishment this week when the Carmel Town Council declined to adopt the board’s recommended punishment.
The ethics panel had recommended that Jonke be barred from appearing before town agencies for an additional two years, citing his violation of the code’s prohibition on appearing before agencies on any “case, proceeding or application” in which he had been involved or which had been under his active consideration.
The council, in a unanimous vote on Wednesday, decided to take no action on the recommendation. The resolution cited the fact that Jonke had left town employment in August, 2011.
Calls for comment were not returned by town Supervisor Ken Schmidt, and board members Jonathan Schneider, Frank Lombardi, Suzi McDonough, and John Lupinacci.
Despite the ruling, Jonke said he was not pleased with the result.
“The board entertained a complaint for which it had no jurisdiction,” Jonke said. “I think the town council should ask for the resignation of the entire Board of Ethics.”
Board of Ethics Chairman Anthony Battista, in an email message sent Friday, said he had conferred with town special counsel Joseph Charbonneau regarding the Town Board action. The message, which Battista sent to Board of Ethics members and Tax Watch, said Charbonneau had also conferred with Town Attorney Greg Folchetti about what happened at the Town Council meeting.
“I just spoke with Joe Charbonneau, he also spoke with Folchetti town attorney, and since Jonke was no longer employed, they (Town Board) would do nothing. He did say that if Jonke continues work in Carmel that Lansky could file another complaint. He said if anyone asks that we say that a complaint was made to the Ethics board, who found probable cause, then investigated, made a decision and recommendation to the Town Board and from there on it is out of our hands, and contact Town for answers as to why nothing was done. I am still not happy!!!”
When apprised of Battista’s comments, Jonke said it revealed the ethics board chairman’s attitude toward him.
“This is malicious, this is personal,” said Jonke. “This is a kangaroo court.”
Jonke’s comments came a day after he heard about the vote in a case brought by Carmel attorney and developer, Bart Lansky. He’d lodged a complaint with the ethics panel in 2012, after Jonke appeared before the town’s Board of Assessment Review with 39 grievances – almost 10 percent of the cases this year.
Lansky, one of Jonke’s competitors in the tax-grievance field, had sought to represent Carmel developer Mike Barile, one of Jonke’s clients.
Lansky said the Town Council’s refusal to act on the ethics board’s recommended punishment did not take away from the fact that Jonke had been found to be in violation of the ethics code.
“The reality is that there was an ethics violation, for whatever that’s worth,” Lansky said.
Lansky wondered if Jonke would return to Town Hall in May to represent property owners in grievance cases, with the ethics violation still on the books, yet unenforced by the Town Council.
“I wonder what happens next year,” he said.
Jonke said he intends to represent clients again in Carmel. He said the ethics law in the town does not have a broad prohibition on town officials appearing before town agencies for two years, as does ethics provisions that govern state employees. Carmel employees are only barred from appearing before agencies on any “case, proceeding or application” in which he had been involved or which had been under his active consideration.
Jonke said none of his grievances involved cases, proceedings or applications that had come before him.
“I intend to file grievances in 2013,” he said. “I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t. It was up to the town board to enforce the ethics code, and they are saying they have no authority over me. I said that from the beginning.”