Naugatuck looks to strengthen ethics rules

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NAUGATUCK — Two borough fire officials — the only participants in a hearing Monday before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses — said they thought some ethics requirements for borough employees, officials, contractors, and consultants could be more strict.

The borough board held a hearing on proposed updates to the borough’s code of ethics, which has not been revised since it was created 26 years ago.

The proposed code allows employees, officials and their families to accept gifts valued at a maximum of $100 from people interested in doing business with the borough. The current code allows gifts of up to $50.

“In my opinion, 100 dollars is way too high,” Fire Chief Ken Hanks said.

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi said she agreed.

“I’d like it to be 5 dollars, quite frankly, but that’s just my personal opinion,” she said.

According to Code of Ethics Commission Chair Fred Valente, the amount was raised due to increased prices over the decades, and the fact that the state code of ethics allows for $100 gifts.

Hanks is bound by the state code of ethics as a part-time employee of the Connecticut Fire Academy, but said he still disagreed with the amount.

When residents are elected or appointed to boards and commissions, Borough Clerk Nancy DiMeo sends them a copy of the ethics code and a memo they are to sign and return.

Some, however, are sworn in and begin performing their duties without signing the code, said Fire Commission Chairman Wayne Malicki.

“I’m just wondering if we could have a little more teeth, or something in there that could actually make sure that these things do get signed, and are actually returned before the person is sworn in and starts acting,” Malicki said.

DiMeo and Mayor Robert Mezzo said they were open to enforcing a requirement that the board member signs the code of ethics before being sworn in.

The ethics code also prohibits people from serving on more than one board or commission at a time, with the exception of the Charter Revision Commission and other boards “of finite duration.”

Mezzo said some ad hoc commissions, such as the Cultural Council and the Blight and Beautification Committee, should be open to people on existing boards, although their existence is indefinite.

“I wouldn’t want to deter a burgess from participating in cultural council,” Mezzo said.

The Code of Ethics Commission, which is charged with revising the code, will tweak the language to allow officials to participate on certain commissions, Valente said.

“If there’s no true conflict, then there’s no issue,” Valente said.

The proposed revisions are on the agenda for the Board of Mayor and Burgesses meeting Tuesday.