Borough to hold hearing on updated ethics code

0
10

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses will hold a hearing Monday on proposed revisions to the borough’s code of ethics, which has not been updated since it was adopted 26 years ago.

Formal ethics complaints over the years have been so rare that whenever one was filed, the borough clerk would have to call around to determine who was still on the Code of Ethics Commission, said Chair Fred Valente.

“There was no incentive for people to follow a code of ethics, because it didn’t have any teeth,” Valente said. “It essentially told you, ‘If you do wrong, that’s bad.’”

The updated code has gone from five to 20 pages. It is more specific and now outlines penalties for those who break the rules.

The code of ethics is part of the borough’s code of ordinances, which the borough board can vote to change at any time. It was created to prevent conflicts of interest among borough employees and elected officials and to prevent them from using their powers for their own personal or financial benefit.

Under the revised code, violators could be publicly reprimanded, suspended, fired, fined or ordered to pay restitution for ethical violations.

Among other rules, the code states that employees and officials cannot work in any way that would compromise their duties to the town. Officials cannot vote on matters that affect them or their family members personally or professionally. Employees and officials are also prohibited from favoring people or causes based on race, religion, age or gender.

The updated code would also apply to contractors and Board of Education employees. Paid consultants, such as borough attorneys, would also have some rules, such as a prohibition from disclosing confidential information or using it for financial benefit.

Elected officials, members of many commissions, full-time management employees, and other employees involved in real estate, property, purchasing and claims would be required to file financial disclosure statements detailing their property and business interests.

“You’re trying to make things as transparent as possible, to avoid even the appearance of improprieties,” Valente said.

Employees, officials and their families would be allowed to accept gifts of up to $100 from people interested in doing business with the town, up from $50. Prices have increased over the decades since the code was adopted, and the state code designates up to $100 as permissible, Valente said.

The code now specifies that any official or employee who believes there are ethics violations is duty bound to disclose them. The Code of Ethics Commission would have authority to subpoena documents and witnesses while investigating complaints.

The commission would also have to file annual reports to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses.

Residents can weigh in on the proposed code Monday at 6 p.m. in the Hall of Burgesses on the fourth floor of Town Hall, 229 Church St. The borough board will discuss the revisions after the hearing and possibly vote on them.

Municipalities are not required to update their ethics codes, but Mayor Robert A. Mezzo made it one of his priorities since he was first elected.

“It’s very important to ensure that the public has confidence in a government that abides by ethical standards, and it’s appropriate to revisit that,” Mezzo said.