Public hearing on May 8 for proposed ethics code changes

By JEN CARDINES

STAFF WRITER

The proposed ethics ordinance draft will once again go to a public hearing during Town Council on Monday, May 8, with a vote to follow. For months, councilors expressed disagreement amongst each other as a disclosure statement was brought to the table for review.

The council held a public hearing in January where many appointed and elected officials spoke against the ordinance. Following that hearing, the ordinance committee held meetings at night so that more people were available to attend, and then altered the language based on feedback they received.

If passed, each elected public official and non-union public employee will be required to file an annual financial disclosure form by Dec. 1 that also includes immediate family members’ business conducted with the town. The disclosure would be on file in the Town Clerk’s office as public record.

Councilors Chris Palmieri (D) and Cheryl Lounsbury (R) represent the council on the committee. Through the original hearing and public comment at meetings, officials removed certain stipulations from the disclosure—one being that appointed board members were required to participate in the disclosures.

Now, only elected officials and town employees fall under the ordinance.

Financial disclosures are used in national and state governments, requiring employees and politicians to file such assets. Southington is trying to follow suit.

“Everything is modeled from the state,” said Palmieri. He said the proposed document does not require nearly the amount of disclosures made in larger governments. “It is very watered down.”

“We worked closely together on this,” Palmieri said. He said that Councilor Ed Pocock III also weighed in and presented ideas to the committee. The three council members are in favor of the disclosure statement to allow transparency in government.

“I’m strongly in favor of it,” Lounsbury said. “It tells public officials what they’re going to be held accountable for.”

The newest draft was presented to council members during the April 24 meeting, two weeks prior to the public hearing date. That evening, a vote was made to release that draft to the public for the hearing on May 8.

Chairman Michael Riccio said during the April meeting that he felt it would deter people in the business community from running for office.

“I don’t support this going forward,” he said before the vote. “I like the compromise, but I’ll be happy to have the discussion in two weeks.”

Victoria Triano also showed concern during the meeting because she didn’t want her personal information on file for years to come.

Public documents must remain on file for a certain number of years, so even when elected officials choose to leave office, their documents will remain on record.

“If I’m not holding office, this thing should be destroyed,” she said, motioning to the disclosure document. Attorney Sciota replied, saying that destroying public documents is not allowed.

Palmieri told the council that he checked with the state, and found that these disclosures would be available under Freedom of Information (FOI), which is why they would remain in the clerk’s office.

Lounsbury said that a vote will take place after Monday’s hearing. “We’ve been doing work with this since September,” she said.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Weichsel Center conference room at 196 N. Main St.

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