By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
PROSPECT — A new ethics policy for town employees has gone into effect, and it may also be applied to elected and appointed officials.
The town’s labor attorney, Stephanie E. Cummings of Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey LLP of Waterbury, designed an ethics policy that covers full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, she explained to the Town Council at their Jan. 18 meeting.
“An employee will not be allowed to have financial interest or engage in any business employment transaction which will give the appearance of conflict or a conflict with their duties to the town,” Cummings said. “They’re not allowed to disclose confidential information; confidential information is information that wouldn’t otherwise be subject to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act).”
The policy was formed after Town Council members asked Prospect Mayor Robert J. Chatfield for an ethics policy.
“They asked that I had one made up and I had,” Chatfield said later.
The policy doesn’t cover contractors or elected officials, who are not considered town employees. However, elected officials could be required to take a pledge with the same outline. Much of the information from the ethics policy could be added to contracts, said Cummings.
The policy would also expand to family members of a town employee, including the spouse, parent, sibling or child. The policy prohibits employees and family members from accepting large gifts. Bringing a plate of cookies is acceptable under the policy, but accepting tickets to the Palace Theater to perhaps gain added benefits from the town would be prohibited, Cummings said.
“Similarly, if you have an associated business, which is a business of which you are the sole owner, the majority shareholder, you own more than 5% of that business, you are prohibited from contracting with the town and you are not allowed to use town property for personal gain unless otherwise allowed by the town,” Cummings said.
Once a town employee leaves their town job, that person is not allowed to use information gained from working with the town for their own personal business, according to Cummings.
“They’re not allowed to come before any commission over which they had direct authority if it’s for a personal benefit,” Cummings said.
Town Council member Kathryn Zandri asked how officials would move forward if an ethics complaint was made against an elected town official.
Cummings said the town has the right to establish an ethics committee but added that it’s difficult to say what the remedies could be aside from residents voting the offending person out of office.
“You can certainly have elected officials sign a pledge they won’t do that but the town does not have a lot of remedy against an elected official given that they’re really separate entities,” Cummings said.
Town Council Chairman Jeffrey Slapikas asked Cummings how this new policy will affect union workers whose contract is already set.
The union would have the right the demand collective bargaining if they felt that this is going to have an impact on their outcome, Cummings said
“I would argue that setting a policy for all employees relating to ethics is well within the town’s right to do so,” Cummings said. “I don’t anticipate an issue but one could arise.”
Town council member Theresa C. Graveline asked if this policy could be used for appointed officials.
Cummings said the policy can certainly be used for them and there is more wiggle room for appointed officials since they’re serving at the discretion of whomever appointed them.
“You have a lot more flexibility in how you address the appointees than you do over the elected,” Cummings said.
Cummings said the only ethics component the town has is in the town charter, under Section 3.06. It states any elected or appointed officer or any employee of the town who has a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract, transaction or decision of any board or commission to which the town is a party, shall disclose that interest to the council and shall thereupon disqualify himself or herself from a discussion or vote on such matter which disclosure shall be entered upon the official record.
“We would include this ethics policy in the handbook that would be disseminated to all of the employees and that they would be bound by this policy,” Cummings said.