Public hearing on code of ethics set in Glastonbury

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Oct. 11, 2013
Ethics Commission Chair Reggie Babcock outlines several proposed changes to the town's Code of Ethics. Photo by Steve Smith.
Ethics Commission Chair Reggie Babcock outlines several proposed changes to the town's Code of Ethics. Photo by Steve Smith.

The town of Glastonbury is in the process of getting its Code of Ethics updated. Changes are being recommended by the Ethics Commission, and several of them are stemming some interesting discussion.

At the Town Council meeting on Oct. 8, Ethics Commission Chair Reggie Babcock said years of work has been done to this point, to make the modifications. “It really has been a very detailed, painstaking process we've been through,” Babcock said, adding that the recommendations were arrived at unanimously.

The many changes include some that are grammatical, Babcock said, and came from a variety of sources and suggestions. The code has not been amended in about 10 years.

The preamble of the code was “shortened up quite a bit,” Babcock said, adding that generally stating the policy and purpose is susceptible to misinterpretation.

“The specific matters for which there could be an ethics breach are spelled out in later sections,” Babcock said. “We wouldn't expect to find them in the preamble, but some have cited provisions from there.”

He added that the “shorter, tighter and clearer” preamble will make it easier for the commission to identify violations by eliminating some unnecessary language.

A “business associate concept” is also built into the revisions. Babcock said an ethics violations could be committed if a person received a benefit directly, or if a close relative benefits. New proposals would also encompass business associates. 

The most difficult, but serious issue, Babcock said, was that of confidentiality, especially where there is more than one respondent. He explained that when someone files an inquiry, the first thing to happen is that the chair or vice-chair would look at it and make a decision on whether it could be dismissed summarily. When a request gets past that first look, the respondent is notified. The difficulty is that when there are multiple respondents, it's hard to notify one person that they have been named without identifying others.

“Our proposed solution to that is that all the parties are required to maintain the confidentiality of the proceeding,” Babcock said, adding that another difficulty occurs when a matter is cleared up. Some individuals may wish their having been exonerated to be public knowledge, while others would want no part of the issue to become public.

Attorney Jean D'Aquila, who worked with the commission on the code, said that the statutes say that such information can be made public at the respondent's request, but doesn't speak to multiple respondents.

Councilman Tom Gullotta asked if the Commission is able to require someone to maintain confidence. “Can you tell me I can't speak?” Gullotta asked, citing a hypothetical.

“The answer is 'yes,'” D'Aquila said, adding that it would be required as long as at least one respondent wants confidentiality maintained.

However, Councilman Larry Byar followed up with a question about enforcement. “The commission has no sanctions, no powers, whatsoever,” Babcock said.

Babcock said another part of the code puts the town clerk in an “awkward spot,” when opening mail addressed to the Ethics Commission, and not being able to know whether it is a benign matter or a confidential one requiring action in a timely manner.

“The proposed change is a simple one,” Babcock said. “The town clerk will no longer open our mail. They will date-stamp it, and be in touch with one of us. We'll get it, and we'll open it and we'll treat it in accordance with our procedures.”

Another thing discussed by the commission was whether council members could make an inquiry or complaint anonymously. In the past, it was determined that a request must be signed, under oath, in order to be considered.

“There are some serious due process problems attached to that kind of procedure,” Babcock said.

A public hearing, required before the changes can be approved by the council, is scheduled for Oct. 22.

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