Murtagh: Annabi case shows need for Yonkers lobbyist registry

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YONKERS — Federal prosecutors’ allegations that former City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi took money from developers has a former councilman renewing calls for legislation to help the city more closely track lobbyists.

Former Republican Councilman John Murtagh said this week that current lawmakers should consider legislation he twice introduced to the council, in 2009 and 2010, to require anyone lobbying city officials or employees to register with the city.

That original bill “got lost in the shuffle,” he said, and never made it to a vote.

But as Annabi prepares to defend herself in federal court against allegations she and former city GOP boss Zehy Jereis conspired to sell her votes on the Ridge Hill Village and Longfellow schools projects, Murtagh said somebody should “take the ball and move it forward” on his previous efforts.

“People would be willing to comply with” a local lobbyist registration ordinance, Murtagh said Tuesday, adding that it would allow constituents to see “who is trying to influence my councilman on that development in my neighborhood.”

The state already has a lobbyist registration database where the public can look up details such as the names of lobbyists, what they were paid, who hired them, who they are lobbying and on what topic they are lobbying.

Murtagh said a local ordinance would have given the city a tool to pursue charges against people like Anthony Mangone, who was indicted by federal prosecutors two years ago but has since pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Annabi and Jereis.

Mangone was the lawyer for the Longfellow developer and claims to have paid Jereis tens of thousands of dollars to pass along to Annabi for her vote.

Council President Chuck Lesnick posed another idea this week –  higher pay for council members.

Currently the lawmakers are considered part-time employees and earn a base salary of $37,905.

The council president said that partly because of the city’s “fairly strong” ethics code, some members have been restricted from pursuing more lucrative work outside City Hall.

After the city ethics board ruled in 2006 that his law firm could not represent clients before city agencies, Lesnick resigned his position as “of counsel” to Smith Buss & Jacobs and pledged to seek clients elsewhere for his tax credit consulting business.

He said Tuesday that such moves can result in a “tremendous diminution of income” for lawmakers.

“More and more, legislators are treating (their work) like full-time jobs,” Lesnick said, “and maybe if they paid it accordingly, and made it full time, we might have less problems like this.”

In November 2005, Yonkers voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum (based on earlier legislation by Murtagh and former Council President Richard Martinelli) to overhaul the city’s ethics code and throw out its old board.

The strengthened Yonkers ethics board that exists today replaced a virtually nonexistent previous Ethics Board that had no budget, one vacancy and four members serving with expired terms.

A Charter Revision Commission convened by former Mayor Phil Amicone in 2004 retooled the city’s ethics laws after a Journal News investigation exposed the condition of the previous board and other shortcomings in the city’s ethics laws.

The current ethics code requires city officials to, among many other things, file annual disclosure forms with the board listing all their outside employers. They must also reveal whether those employers, or any of their clients, stand to gain from business they may have before the city.

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