A St. Lawrence County government telephone number was printed in the top left corner of checks for a bank account for state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchies re-election campaign, but Mrs. Ritchies office said it was an honest mistake and not an ethical breach.
Mrs. Ritchies office said the number was not placed on the checks on purpose. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence County Clerk Mary Lou Rupp, Mrs. Ritchies successor, said that no political work was being done with government resources or public officials work time. Doing so would violate ethics laws.
It was a stupid mistake, but an honest mistake, said Graham D. Wise, Mrs. Ritchies chief of staff. Its been an oversight thats going to be rectified.
But some Democratic opponents of Mrs. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, didnt buy the explanation about how the political checks came to have the number for the county clerks office printed on them.
I think its highly questionable on whether their story is correct or not, said Sean M. Hennessey, the Jefferson County Democratic Party chairman and a supporter of Oswego County Legislator Amy M. Tresidders bid to unseat Mrs. Ritchie on Nov. 6. Id really like to know if that office has been used for political means. I think thats a question that voters need answers to.
Mrs. Ritchie was the county clerk until inauguration into the state Senate on New Years Day 2011. Mrs. Rupp, Mrs. Ritchies longtime deputy, took over the office in her absence until Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed Democrat Gavin M. Regan as county clerk on March 14, 2011. Mrs. Rupp defeated Mr. Regan for a four-year term in November.
Mr. Wise said in February or March 2011, the campaign opened a new account at Community Bank because of a procedural matter related to the campaigns tax identification number. And, though he doesnt know how, the county clerks telephone number was printed on its checks.
Then-campaign treasurer Jeffrey L. Smithers realized immediately that the number should not have appeared on the checks, Mr. Wise said. Mr. Smithers alerted the bank, which provided a new set of checks. On the replacement checks he saw, the phone number had been taken off, Mr. Wise said, so Mr. Smithers thought the matter had been resolved. But in other boxes of checks Mr. Smithers hadnt seen, the number remained meaning the bank made an error and issued the campaign mixed checks, some with the phone number and some without, Mr. Wise said.
Mrs. Ritchies campaign treasurer is Patricia A. McMurray, who works in the senators office and worked for her in the county clerks office for 12 years. Mrs. Ritchies office declined to make her available for an interview, and Mr. Smithers was not available to comment Friday.
Mr. Wise provided the Times with a copy of a check written from Mrs. Ritchies campaign account on April 2, 2011; it does not have the telephone number on it.
A check issued this June, however, displays the clerks office number.
Mr. Wise said he is not sure how many campaign checks were issued with the government phone number, and the office was unaware of the problem until contacted by a reporter.
Mrs. Rupp denied anything untoward had happened in her office.
We dont do anything political in the office, she said. I cant imagine Patty knew anything about it.
Mrs. Rupp said she has supported Mrs. Ritchie by marching in parades in Morristown and Canton.
Thats the extent of what Ive done, she said.
Mrs. Ritchies campaign did help Mrs. Rupps successful election effort against Mr. Regan, however. Mrs. Ritchies campaign donated $2,000 in the final days before the November race, and staffers were on the ground volunteering.
County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said she was convinced that Mrs. Rupp, who had been Mrs. Ritchies first deputy when she was county clerk, had been unaware that her office number was used.
Mary Lou was quite surprised, Ms. St. Hilaire said. At this point, the current staff is not involved in it.
Ms. St. Hilaire said she met with department heads Wednesday to make sure they understood that any political activity on county time and the use of any county resources violates policy.
The situation is distressing, said Board of Legislators Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk.
Its pretty upsetting to think the county clerks office was in any way used in a political campaign, she said. All I can think is that some work was done from the county clerks office.
Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, Mrs. Tresidders brother, said use of the county clerks office for any political purpose is improper.
It was wrong then and its wronger now, he said. This was probably a mistake, but you should know better. If you dont, you shouldnt be a state senator. People who make those kinds of mistakes lack judgment.