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Legislator calls on Morelle to resign over alleged ethics violations

WHECTV
Updated: July 28, 2020 06:15 PM
Created: July 27, 2020 04:02 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A Monroe County legislator is calling for Rep. Joe Morelle to resign after she says he attempted to get her fired from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren spoke out emotionally Monday afternoon supporting her and accusing Rep. Morelle of trying to pressure a black woman.

Sabrina LaMar (D-Rochester) represents the 27th District of Monroe County and works at RIT as the Legislature Project Coordinator for Community Engagement to Reduce Victimization (CERV).

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LaMar says in the complaint that Robin Wilt, a candidate for the 25th Congressional District, which Morelle represents, asked her to come on her Facebook show and discuss her work at RIT on gun violence and the coronavirus.

After the appearance, LaMar says many people asked her why she was supporting the congressman's opponent in June's Democratic Primary when she’s a Democratic County Legislator.

LaMar’s response is that the appearance had nothing to do with politics and was only about discussing her work as RIT’s CERV coordinator.

She alleges that on April 29, her supervisor told her Morelle called administration at RIT and “attempted to use his position to terminate my employment.”

She says she was reprimanded, “due to his false accusation that I mixed RIT’s business with my role as a Legislator.”

LaMar then says her supervisor watched the video and told the administration that she sought permission before going on the show. She says, “It was found that there was no violation of company policy.”

Her complaint alleges Morelle violated Section 14 of the Official Code of Ethics for the 116th Congress, which states:

“A member may not with the intent to influence an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity.  The member cannot take or withhold, or offer or threaten to take or withhold, an official act.  The member can not influence, or offer or threaten to influence, the official act of another.”

She also says Morelle's call was really payback for her own criticism of Morelle's son, Joseph D. Morelle Jr. (D-Irondequoit) who sits on the County Legislature.

"He's under the impression that I called his son a racist and that was not true at all," LaMar said. "So I believe him calling my job, trying to get me fired was an attempt to intimidate me and it really goes against everything, the oath that he took, the code, the Congressional Code of Conduct. Joe stood with Black Lives Matter a few weeks ago, in support of them, but then he turns around and attempts to get me fired from my job, a black single mom."

"Congressman Morelle told me this personally, and he told others personally that he made that call," Warren said. "He thought it was acceptable to call RIT, an institution that receives millions of dollars from the federal government, regarding the actions of one of its employees."

LaMar is calling on Morelle to resign, and for the incident to be investigated.

Morelle’s campaign released the following statement Monday:

"The Morelle campaign inquired about R.I.T. personnel appearing in political campaign advertising in their professional capacity as an R.I.T. employee. At no time was the employee’s employment or funding for the institution raised."

Tuesday, his office released the following statement:

“In April, I inquired about Ms. LaMar appearing in political campaign advertising while representing her professional capacity as an RIT employee. The attached photos document the full extent of the outreach and communication with the Government Relations contact at RIT. As the campaign stated yesterday, this clearly demonstrates that at no point was there any attempt to threaten Ms. LaMar’s employment nor discuss funding for the institution.” 

Morelle's office also released the following screenshots he says were from his text conversation with Deborah Stendardi of RIT. Click here to read the texts having trouble seeing the images below on your mobile device.

RIT released the following statement on the situation Monday:

“While RIT does not comment on personnel matters, we want to point out that the university has a clear and widely disseminated policy regarding permitted political and legislative activities for all employees. The policy is available on our website at: https://www.rit.edu/academicaffairs/policiesmanual/c100


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