Reader feels that ethics code changes don’t go far enough

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To the editor:

Firstly, I applaud the Town Council for making meaningful changes to the Code of Ethics that are driven by the significant issues that occurred during the Councilman Lombardi ethics inquiry in 2015. Unfortunately, the debate over whether a substantive Financial Disclosure should be an integral component of the Ethics Code could derail the valiant effort of the Council.

More importantly, not having a meaningful requirement in place threatens the character and integrity of Southington government.

Public office, whether volunteered or paid, is a public trust. The public’s confidence in the integrity of its elected and appointed representatives is paramount. It is the duty of the leaders of this town to provide a method of assuring that standards of ethical conduct are clear, consistent and uniform in their application.  A fair, comprehensive and transparent Financial Disclosure provides an important complement to the Code of Ethics and delivers on this promise.

Southington residents should have several concerns regarding the current perspective of some members of the Town Council and Town Attorney regarding Financial Disclosures:

The proposed Financial Disclosure version is overly simplistic and will not give the town government or its citizen’s an appropriate level of confidence

It is woefully incomplete in terms of information gathering (see attached Southington’s recommended form and examples of more comprehensive Financial Disclosures, including the State of Connecticut)

There are no specific definitions of possible conflicts to give the official guidance when completing the form

Unlike other similar jurisdictions, there is no requirement to update the document once per year

The language in the document leaves it to the town official him or herself to decide which businesses, property, etc. should be disclosed based on a vague concept of whether the disclosure has “a reasonable likelihood to conflict with the town official’s performance in their office.” No other Financial Disclosure from any other jurisdiction allows this level of latitude and “easy out” language.

It is contemplated that, if Financial Disclosures are required, they be “kept private between the public official and town attorney.”  This is a betrayal of the public’s right to know and goes against all other jurisdictions that require these forms be made public and readily available for viewing. (see attached public disclosure form that was acquired from a New Jersey Municipal Government website library).

One has to ask why Southington would not protect itself by being more diligent regarding disclosure of these possible conflicts.

Of additional concern are public comments from current and former Town Councilors regarding this issue.  A former Town Councilor and current member of the Ethics Board stated at a recent Town Council meeting that we should not require financial disclosures for town officials because “we all pretty much know each other.”

The current Chairman of the Town Council recently made several statements that should be concerning to thoughtful town residents, including his opinion that public disclosure is “over the top and unnecessary” and that fellow Town Councilor Ed Pocock “dreamt up this entire thing… no one knows why exactly.”

It seems that many other government jurisdictions have also “dreamt up” the need for town elected and appointed officials to complete a comprehensive Financial Disclosure for public consumption.

The provincial, “wink and nod” environment in Southington town government must be eliminated.  A thorough Financial Disclosure and the other recommended changes to the Ethics Code are significant steps toward more ethical and transparent government.

Craig Simms, Southington

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