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Barnhart files ethics complaint against Rochester's deputy mayor

Cedric Alexander (WHAM file photo)

Rochester, N.Y. – A former candidate for Rochester mayor has filed an ethics complaint against the city’s deputy mayor.

In her complaint, former candidate Rachel Barnhart claims that Deputy Mayor Cedric Alexander has performed outside work while being on the city’s time, and has, “clear conflicts of interest.”

“In order to get a full picture, an ethics investigation is needed,” Barnhart wrote in a letter to the Board of Ethics. “An advisory opinion should guide Alexander’s future activities and preserve the integrity of the city government.”

Among the concerns Barnhart addresses in a blog posted on her website are:

-Time away from City Hall: According to records Barnhart says “Rochester for All” requested, Alexander appeared to be away from City Hall for 28 days in a 25-week period, seven of those days, writes Barnhart, were on official business for the city.

-Axon/Taser: Barnhart makes note that Alexander was the featured speaker at the Axon Accelerate event in the spring of this year. “It’s unlikely that Alexander was not compensated in any way for his appearance at the Taser conference,” Barnhart writes, pointing out that a cocktail event was held at the event, during which Alexander could promote his book. She adds that Alexander’s calendar showed a 90-minute meeting with Axons national sales director in August, and that the City of Rochester has spent more than $80,000 on Axon products since July 2016.

-U. of R.: Barnhart says Alexander is listed as a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, noting the city’s partnerships with the university on a number of projects. Pointing out meetings with the university’s president, vice-president, and his presence at university events, she writes about Alexander, “What hat is Alexander wearing during these discussions? Alexander’s ties to the U of R mean ethical conflicts are inescapable. It appears Alexander is doing URMC work on city time, as he had four separate meetings with doctors in the psychiatry department. It’s unclear why the city funded his trip to the American Psychological Association conference, as this expenditure seems to benefit Alexander and URMC far more than city taxpayers.”

A full list of items in Barnhart’s request can be read here.

In a response sent to 13WHAM Wednesday evening, Bureau of Communications and Special Events Director James Smith replied to some of the claims made by Barnhart.

-CNN: In a section of her post regarding outside income, Barnhart writes, “Alexander is a paid analyst for CNN. He appears on their broadcast and writes columns for the CNN website.” Mr. Smith’s response states that Alexander is not paid by CNN.

-Axon/Taser: Smith writes, in regard to the Axon conference, Alexander was not paid to be there. Smith states the deputy mayor was there on his own time, and that his presence was arranged prior to him taking on the role of deputy mayor.

-U. of R.: Smith says that Alexander’s position at the university is non-paid, and therefore creates no conflict.

Smith’s statement goes on to refer to Ms. Barnhart as, “a twice failed political candidate who lacks objectivity due to her personal political ambition, particularly as it relates to the City of Rochester.” He later states, “Because these claims seem to be rooted more in political sour grapes than a basis in fact, her almost daily criticism of City officials and City government appears to be personally motivated and raises questions about her frame of mind and personal bias.”

Smith’s full statement can be read below.

Recently, Rachel Barnhart made some ethics claims related to the Deputy Mayor. While I will not speak point for point to her long post, I feel it is important to take note of several key assertions that Ms. Barnhart makes to show that this post is not based in facts but instead is merely political rhetoric:
She asserts that the Deputy Mayor is paid by CNN. The Deputy Mayor is not paid by CNN.
She asserts the Deputy Mayor was paid to speak at a conference hosted by Axon. He was not paid to speak at that conference (he was there on his personal time and the speaking event was arranged prior to his employment as Deputy Mayor).
She asserts that the Deputy Mayor’s listing as a clinical professor of psychiatry at the URMC creates a conflict of interest with his official interaction with the U of R. Dr. Alexander’s listing as a clinical professor of psychology is a NON-paid position and creates no conflict.
Ms. Barnhart is a twice failed political candidate who lacks objectivity due to her personal political ambition, particularly as it relates to the City of Rochester. She is not a journalist, nor a member of the media and her blog site is not a news site, but rather a tool to further her politically biased views and personal agenda. This is obvious when you look at the information that she is presenting as ‘factual’ once you investigate its actual validity. Because these claims seem to be rooted more in political sour grapes than a basis in fact, her almost daily criticism of City officials and City government appears to be personally motivated and raises questions about her frame of mind and personal bias.

Late Wednesday evening, Barnhart released the following statement in response to Smith:

City spokesman James Smith decided to shed a small amount of light on the deputy mayor’s activities. But there are still serious questions:
1. Smith did not dispute the fact Alexander’s calendar appears to show he was gone 28 business days in 25 weeks.
2. Smith did not address the items on Alexander’s calendar, which show he may have done outside work on city time.
3. Smith said Axon didn’t pay Alexander to speak. Axon still gave Cedric Alexander a benefit. They hosted a cocktail hour and book promotion event. We don’t know if he received meals or travel. Smith also didn’t explain Alexander’s subsequent meeting with Axon, which suggests a relationship with Axon.
4. Smith said CNN and University of Rochester are not paying Alexander. That doesn’t mean he’s not getting other benefits. In the case of U of R, we need to know more about the relationship.
5. Smith did not address Alexander’s consulting work.
Smith's response reinforces why we need full disclosure from our public officials. Our complaint is based on the city’s own public records, as well as publicly available information. This situation is not about me, and I’m not to blame for Alexander’s work habits.
Smith’s personal attack questioning my sanity and standing to file a complaint is disappointing. I won’t be silenced. I won’t be intimidated. I won’t back down.
I entered politics to fight for good government, a natural extension of my work as a journalist. The work Rochester for All is doing is filling a void. We don’t plan on stopping, as we are getting nonprofit status next year to support our efforts. We are a citizen watchdog group. We share our source material with news outlets and the public. We have no agenda, but the truth.
Smith’s response shows arrogance and belief City Hall is above scrutiny. It’s sad he is taking this approach, but it’s telling.

This past year, Barnhart challenged incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Rochester mayor. She came in third, behind Warren County Legislator James Sheppard. A year earlier, she challenged Assemblyman Harry Bronson for his seat, losing to him in the primary race.

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