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Changes could be coming to town’s ethics code

04/15/2019 2:14 PM |

Town Attorney Bill Duffy presented several proposed changes to the town’s ethics code Tuesday.

The changes, Mr. Duffy said, would result in a more effective ethics code that complies with state law.

“We get a lot of questions from board members on whether they should recuse themselves or not,” he said.

In terms of gifts, Mr. Duffy pointed out two conflicting statements that do not currently conform with the state’s ethics law.

“Right now we have a section that says you can’t accept gifts, then an exception that says you can receive gifts of up to $500 in aggregate,” Mr. Duffy said. “That violates state law. You can’t take gifts at all.”

Mr. Duffy proposed amending the section to help officials distinguish between qualified sources, such as friends, and disqualified sources — such as someone seeking an approval or doing business with the town.

Other towns, Mr. Duffy noted, have stricter regulations when it comes to political participation and explicitly prohibit town employees from disclosing privileged or confidential information.

With regard to the town ethics board, Mr. Duffy said many other towns place limitations on the political affiliation of the ethics board — allowing two Democrats, two Republicans and unaffiliated members, for example.

“I don’t know the [political] makeup of our ethics board but we don’t have any type of requirement,” he said.

Board member Louisa Evans pointed out the irony of seeking to keep the ethics board apolitical by involving political parties. Board of Ethics members are not currently prohibited from participating in political activities.

Mr. Duffy suggested removing the provision that requires sworn complaints in order to trigger an ethics board investigation.

“Right now, they’ve turned away a lot of complaints because they aren’t sworn,” he said.

“People may not want to make a complaint because they don’t want their name on the complaint,” Ms. Evans said.

Mr. Duffy could amend the code to allow written complaints — which could remain anonymous — to the ethics board, which drew criticism from board member Jim Dinizio.

“Honestly, I see all sorts of problems with that. You’ve got to have some skin in the game if you’re making a complaint. It’s fairly serious, an ethics complaint,” he said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said anonymous complaints in a small town are necessary and “ultimately unavoidable.”

Ultimately, Mr. Duffy said the intent is to strengthen the town’s ethics code. The board plans to seek input from the ethics board as they move forward.

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