The start of the year has developed into a situation few could have imagined. The first meeting of the Binghamton City Council has created a scandal that could have long-lasting implications. The ironic aspect of this is that the issue of transparency collided headlong with the failure to be transparent by Councilman Dan Livingston.
Livingston was elected in November 2018. Much like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Livingston apparently took the win as a sign that he was allowed to run roughshod politically. The result was the unauthorized, and illegal, misrepresentation of the City of Binghamton and City Council.
“It was on November 23, 2018, that Livingston conferred upon himself the right and legal privilege to create several social media accounts in the name of the City Council… He ignored seeking legal counsel from the City of Binghamton in making this decision. An action that potentially could have caused legal ramifications well beyond his currently non-existent elected office.”
Livingston has no prior experience in government, beyond a loss in the Broome County Clerk race of 2017 (where Livingston has admitted violating election law, as we previously covered). Thus many excused the misrepresentation of the City of Binghamton and City Council as ignorant enthusiasm. Livingston was reprimanded, the unauthorized social media accounts were thought to have been removed (after publication of our article on the violations of law).
Fast-forward to Jan. 7, 2019. The newly sworn-in Councilman Livingston attended the first work session meeting of the Council. He arrived early to the event, which was considered a sign of excitement – but was actually for nefarious reasons. Unknown to various City staff, Council members, and those present, Livingston had planted a small portable recording device. No one was told of this device or its subsequent recording.
We have confirmed via FOIL request, in the middle of the Council work session, Livingston raised a question about legislation he had submitted – with the help of Minority lead Councilman Conrad Taylor. The proposal was in reference to enabling the public more immediate access to Council meetings, via social media or other access. This already exists via Public Officer Law Article 7 (d)(2) & (e) & (f).
The assembled elected officials and legal counsel brought the neophyte politician up to date about the on-going status to provide greater access to the public – which Councilman Taylor was aware but did not advise his junior member about. The discussion continued for 7 minutes, with all in agreement that increased transparency was an important issue. At no point did Livingston mention the secret recording he was making. In essence, Livingston failed in providing transparency while trying to champion transparency.
After 50 minutes of the meeting, as all gathered left or were in the process of leaving, the recording device was found. It was only at this time that Livingston divulged he had recorded the event. He was immediately informed that, depending on what was captured in the recording, an illegal action may have occurred – especially if it were to be published in raw form. Livingston was advised to provide the complete and original video as soon as possible, for legal review.
Oversight? What does that mean
On January 8, 2019 at noon, an unknown organization on Youtube – Binghamton Public Meeting Archive, who have no official authorization or oversight – published a video of the Council session. This was not authorized, and contained portions that could violate privacy laws. Legal counsel for the City of Binghamton had not received any original device or video, as requested, at the time that the Youtube recording was published. The Youtube organization had previously published video of the swearing in of several Democrats, outside of the City of Binghamton. Thus raising the question of political bias and defeating the supposed titular purpose of the organization.
As of the end of the Jan. 9th City Council meeting, Livingston stated that the Youtube site was under his control. Materials found there are claimed to be under his discretion. He asserted responsibility to provide copies of any recording published. It was not made clear if any other individual or organization had access to the raw video, nor what material exists on the raw video.
The process and actions of Councilman Livingston have been antithetical to transparency, and have no apparent oversight. In one day, Councilman Livingston has created several violations of ethics and potentially aided in the misuse and misrepresentation of elected officials representing the City of Binghamton. Violations by Councilman Livingston include NY Public Officer Law – Code of Ethics – 74.3 (f) & (h)
The reaction has been understandably negative and immediate. Councilman John Matzo responded to our request for comment on this matter, echoing his comments at the Jan. 9, 2019 City Council meeting,
“H – An officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that he or she is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his or her trust.”
“He said transparency, transparency, transparency, we didn’t have it on Monday. It was like being spied on. That’s wrong.”
Multiple attempts to contact Councilman Livingston, in regard to this article, have been made at the time of this being published. Councilman Livingston confirmed, in person at City Council chambers, that he received our phone messages, and declined to provide comment about this matter for this article. Livingston instead alleged that coverage of him contained non-factual data; but when asked what was incorrect so it could be corrected he declined to identify any error.
Given the repeated warnings on misrepresentation, the apparent disregard by Councilman Livingston may give constituents in the 2nd District of Binghamton pause. The question of trust, and if any conversation or event where Livingston is present, is being secretly recorded for purposes known only to Livingston hangs heavy at this time. An additional concern, for minority lead Taylor and the Democrat Party, is the potential for legal disciplinary recourse if the pattern of ethical abuse continues.