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Apr
2016
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Binghamton Councilman Who Tried to Bribe ABC Contractor on PLA Bill Forced to Resign

2015.09.21-BILL-BERG-BN

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In Binghamton, NY the city council is deciding how it will move forward following the resignation of councilmember Bill Berg, who left his position last week as part of a plea deal with the Broome County District Attorney’s office. A misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental administration was the impetus. 

The charge stems from a voicemail Berg left with a local contractor asking for campaign support in exchange for his vote on a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant Project.  There will be no further charges stemming from the investigation, according to the DA.

Following Berg’s resignation, councilman Conrad Taylor told WBNG 12 Action News, “I was very taken aback by the allegations when I heard them and now everything is confirmed and I’m just really disappointed in him and disappointed in the entire situation.”

According to the Press and Bulletin, Berg called the anti-union contractor in order to solicit campaign money right before the issue came up for a vote, offering to break the party line and go against the PLA, which would ensure hiring, safety, and wage standards.  The voicemail was eventually turned over to authorities by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), despite their interest in killing PLA:

In a recording of the voicemail obtained by the Press & Sun-Bulletin late last month, Berg states his name and mentions an offer from the contractor to “help” with his campaign. Then, he switches to a new topic: an upcoming City Council vote on the project labor agreement, known as a PLA.

“You said you were able to give me some help with my campaign, A, and B, they’re pushing for a vote on the PLA next Monday night, or Wednesday, and I want to support you a hundred percent,” Berg said in the message. “So, if you help on my campaign, that’d be great.”

Berg, who represents the 7th District on the city’s East Side, then gives the address of a house on Robinson Street, which county property records show he owns.

The 26-second voice mail ends with Berg telling the contractor to “let me know what you’re thinking on that,” and thanking him.

The PLA went on to pass in a council vote, only to be vetoed by Mayor Richard David. David, a Republican, claimed his veto was based on a desired timeline that could be unmet if PLA negotiations became contentious.  In a memo from November, David used ABC talking points to explain his veto:

“There should be a fair and level playing field in which everyone can compete to work on this project.  I do believe there are enough qualified local firms that will competitively bid on this project to ensure that as much of the work as possible will stay local.”

Berg voted in favor of the PLA, although his voicemail indicated he could have gone either way.  The ABC’s lawyers took the voicemail information to the FBI, but it also wound up in the hands of the press and the mayor, who triggered the AG action.

Speaking to the press following his resignation, Berg claimed his innocence, stating he was simply trying to appease all parties involved in the PLA debate. Berg claims he was trying to reach out and gain support for a proposal made in council which would have authorized the PLA on the condition that it included union and nonunion contractors.  He also claims he was not asking for money, but instead boots on the ground to help his campaign.   

“As I said before, I did nothing wrong,” he insisted.  “All I was trying to do was get everybody a piece of the pie.”

Investigators did not believe him.  The city council is moving on. A special election will be held in November to determine who will fill the seat for the rest of Berg’s term.  The City Council indicated it would table any motions or legislation that could be contentious until the 7th district had a representative on the council.  

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