County clerk gave free registrations

JOHNSTOWN – A former Fulton County Clerk may have violated the Fulton County Code of Ethics and the Oath of Office after giving out free snowmobile registrations to certain snowmobile clubs.

According to a news release from the New York State Inspector General’s office, an investigation found the Fulton County Clerk’s Office erroneously issued government registrations to four snowmobile clubs, resulting in $10,665 in uncollected fees over a 10-year period.

The release said the investigation found William Eschler, county clerk from 1988 through 2013, may have also violated both the county’s code of ethics by issuing the free registrations to snowmobile clubs because he did not disclose his membership in any of the clubs in question, as well as his oath of office to uphold the laws of the state of New York.

According to the investigation’s findings, Eschler and former Department of Motor Vehicles Supervisor Sandra Savage permitted local snowmobile clubs to register their snowmobiles as government vehicles, contrary to DMV regulation, for more than 10 years. Both Eschler and Savage said in interviews with the inspector general’s office they believed club-owned snowmobiles used for trail grooming could be registered, according to the investigation report. When told by the office the registrations violated regulations, Eschler allowed it to continue for a year, the report said.

The report said Eschler violated the Fulton County Code of Ethics by having a conflict of interest. Eschler was a member of the snowmobile clubs that benefited, the report said.

“The improper issuance of these government registrations not only cost the state revenue, but was an apparent conflict of interest by the former County Clerk. Under no circumstances should government registrations have been given out free-of-charge to private clubs, particularly after Eschler was aware of the impropriety of his actions. County clerks and county DMV supervisors must be aware of their legal responsibilities with respect to these registrations. I will continue to work with DMV to ensure that clerks and supervisors adhere to the law,” Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott said in the release.

The investigation report suggested the Fulton County DMV properly process snowmobile and other vehicle registrations and collect registration and trail maintenance fees that were uncollected. The report was also forwarded to Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira.

According to Sira, she received a courtesy copy of the investigation’s findings. A copy was also sent by the state to County Attorney Jason Brott, Sira said, with the recommendation Brott review it to determine if it should be sent to the Fulton County Ethics Board.

Sira said the investigation was just an administrative review.

Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Mayfield Town Supervisor Richard Argotsinger said he had heard about the investigation through the news, but had not spoken with members of the board or any officials as of yet.

Argotsinger did believe the board would discuss this investigation in the near future.

“I am sure the board will,” Argotsinger said.