Binghamton City Council member Dan Livingston has become the subject of an independent investigation regarding an internship with a Binghamton University graduate student that has raised ethical concerns.
According to a press release from the Binghamton City Council, Emily Christian, a second-year graduate student studying public administration and Livingston’s intern, was to be paid $1,000 through BU’s Student Affairs Internship Fund. But Christian was also paid more than $500 from Livingston’s political campaign during the course of her internship, according to financial disclosures with the New York State Board of Elections. Although Christian’s internship lasted from May 13 to Aug. 20, Christian was working for Livingston beforehand in an unknown capacity.
Additionally, a memorandum of understanding was obtained from Livingston, stating the internship was with the Binghamton City Council. However, other members of City Council say the memorandum was not made available to them, the city clerk’s office, personnel office or any other administrative offices in City Hall, according to an Oct. 16 letter sent by the Office of Corporation Counsel to BU President Harvey Stenger on Oct. 16. Other documents revealed that no work product was shared with members of the City Council or other city staff, raising questions about whether the internship was of a partisan political nature.
At an Oct. 21 work session, the Binghamton City Council unanimously approved the hiring of an independent legal counsel to investigate the matter. The council has yet to name which legal counsel will pursue the investigation. Livingston, who represents Binghamton’s second district, is up for reelection next month.
According to the Oct. 16 letter to Stenger, the investigation was prompted by an internal review by the Office of Corporation Counsel, led by Kenneth Frank. The office became aware of the issue on July 21 through Christian, who advertised herself as a “property tax research and general advising intern at Binghamton City Council” on her LinkedIn profile. The office also discovered a financial disclosure statement by Livingston stating Christian was paid for canvassing, a political campaign activity.
On July 29, Frank reached out to Christian and other University officials, who, over time, became increasingly uncooperative, according to the Oct. 16 letter to Stenger.
In a follow-up letter to Stenger, written on Oct. 21, Frank wrote that the apparent misuse of the internship program’s funds has escalated the issue at hand.
“The timesheet and research notes raise more significant issues than previously reported,” Frank wrote. “Once again, the City remains very concerned that University resources and funds and the ‘intern’s’ time were being used improperly.”
Christian declined to comment on situation, citing contractual obligations.
Livingston commented on the matter in a public video released on YouTube from the Oct. 21 work meeting, where he said Christian worked as his intern, as there are no formal internships for the Binghamton City Council.
“As I recall, I was told that there was no internship program for City Council and I also remember that Council [member Giovanni] Scaringi has talked about setting up an internship for City Council in the past,” Livingston said.
Livingston added that Christian mainly worked on tax policy, but did indeed look into policy on the sewage plant. Livingston said the projects Christian undertook may not have fit the guidelines of the University.
“I talked with the internship coordinator over at [BU],” Livingston said. “Apparently the [memorandum] was drafted as a project by the intern and it wasn’t a standard form that [BU] was looking for … She wasn’t representing Binghamton City Council.”
A press release from the Binghamton City Democratic Committee alleges that the investigation is a continued partisan attack by opposing Republicans. The press release also stressed Livingston’s efforts to increase transparency and gave examples of local Republican officials engaging in similar work-related partnerships.
“This latest attack is the most obvious attempt to launch a political hit job two weeks before the election,” the statement read. “The facts are clear, and Livingston has nothing to hide, which is why he voted in support of the investigation.”
John Matzo, council member for Binghamton’s sixth district, wrote in a statement that the City Council has a right to know what happened over the course of the internship.
“On the surface, it appears Councilman Livingston coordinated a paid internship for one of his campaign staffers without City Council’s knowledge or approval,” Matzo wrote. “City Council has a responsibility to investigate exactly what happened and ensure all documents, facts and information come forward in a transparent, timely manner.”
Others echoed similar sentiments. Dani Cronce, council member for Binghamton’s third district, wrote that Livingston “coordinated this internship behind the backs of his colleagues,” and Chris Papastrat, council member for Binghamton’s fifth district, wrote that the internal review has “uncovered more questions than answers.”
Despite the investigation, Thomas Scanlon, council member for Binghamton’s seventh district and City Council president, wrote that partnerships with BU will continue.
“This situation raises ethical concerns, especially given that no one was even aware this internship existed,” Scanlon wrote. “City Council’s goal should be to get a complete assessment of what took place and ensure that positive, productive partnerships with Binghamton University continue in the future.”