Commentary: Board of Ethics chair explains his resignation

Town of Southington

To the editor:

“Who is that guy? I never heard of him.” This was the murmur overheard at the Southington Town Council Ethics hearing on Oct. 20 and on social media boards. That’s fine. I prefer to be “that guy.” I believe members of Boards of Ethics should be made of more of “that guy (or gal).” Low-key, little known members of the community, who work hard, take care of their families and volunteer their time.

They are recommended for the position because they love their town and have a sense of neutrality along with a calm, centered nature that should be the hallmark of a Board of Ethics member. Ideally, “that guy” is not well-connected with town politicians and other political influencers. I am not. I am a socially moderate, fiscally conservative transplant from New Jersey.

I spent weeks analyzing the Southington Ethics Code as it pertained to recent complaints regarding a possible conflict of interest from a town councilor. I did not once take into account the character of the complainants or the motives, political or otherwise for their complaint (although I recognize that they may exist). Not once did I consider that the defendant might be a “nice guy,” or “upstanding young man.”

I received several calls from friends of the defendant and Republican politicians reminding me of the political sensitivity of the Ethics Board vote and the motives of the complainants. Ultimately, none of these factors had, or should have had, any impact on my decision. As a Board of Ethics member, these factors simply should not matter. What matters are the merits of the complaint and the evidence available to support or refute it.

Here is the bottom line upon which the majority of the board based its decision:

The code of ethics states, in part, that a breach of the code exists if “the officer, official, employee or member of any Town agency is… the employee or other participant of, or in, a private business or professional enterprise that will be affected by the outcome of any matter under consideration before him/her.”

During the Town Council meeting (May 27, 2014), there was a vote to select the solar vendor for the Hatton project. Prior to the vote, Mr. Lombardi stated for the record, “Mr. Chairman, I ask to recuse myself due to my employer doing business with this vendor.” By stating this, Mr. Lombardi acknowledged that a business with which he is affiliated would be affected by the outcome of his vote, and he correctly removed himself from this “matter under consideration.”

It is important to note that, in the Ethics hearing on Sept. 9, 2015, Mr. Lombardi changed his position and stated that his company had no business relationship with Greenskies.

In a subsequent Council vote on June 22, 2015, (the matter upon which the complaint is based), the Council was asked to vote to reconsider the decision to choose the Hatton field for a solar array. Mr. Lombardi made the decision to vote on this “matter under consideration,” even though he acknowledged the inherent conflict when he recused himself from the May 27 vote.

It does not matter what advice he received prior to his vote, or from whom he received it. It was his vote to make. These are indisputable facts. This was the tipping point upon which the Board of Ethics based its decision. Period.

When I was asked to participate in the town’s Board of Ethics, I was told that my job would be to interpret the code of ethics as it related to complaints. Unfortunately, I was misled. I am disappointed in all the parties involved in this case. When political issues on both sides pollute the basic tenets of “ethics,” the process ceases to be ethical.

I encourage the Town of Southington to carefully review its code of ethics as well as its complaint and appeal processes. Only then could the town salvage its reputation as an ethical place to live, work, and do business.

Aristotle said, “The law is reason, free from passion.” Unfortunately, there has been a significant dose of passion piled on this issue of law.

I resigned from the Southington Board of Ethics because it became clear that the passionate perspectives on both sides of this case made it impossible to act ethically. Period.

Craig Simms, former Chair of the Southington Board of Ethics

 

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