Council unanimously approves changes to town’s code of ethics

By JEN CARDINES

STAFF WRITER

After months in the works, the Town Council voted to instate the new ethics code for Southington’s elected officials with a unanimous vote during the May 8 meeting.

The vote followed a public hearing that was held for community members to weigh in on the issue, but very few came out to speak. However, during previous hearings and town council meetings, various elected officials and town residents spoke to the issue with different viewpoints.

The new language was controversial across boards and commissions since its original proposal back in September because it requires all elected officials to provide a financial disclosure of their LLC’s and assets. The new ordinance will be effective following this November’s election, so elected officials can opt not to run for re-election if they are not comfortable with the new disclosure demands.

Members from both sides of the aisle contributed in drafting the new language. Ed Pocock III (R) strongly encouraged this from the beginning, and worked with Chris Palmieri (D) and Cheryl Lounsbury (R) who sit on the ordinance sub-committee.

Everyone that addressed the council during the public hearing this week spoke in favor of passing the ethics ordinance, including six letters from constituents that were discussed by councilors.

Lifelong Southington resident Chris Poulos told the council he thinks the ordinance is logical and spoke from personal experience. Poulos serves on several non-profit boards of directors and is required to disclose financial information for each of those organizations.

“When I was volunteering to be on these boards…at first I thought it was a little intrusive, but I learned quickly that the conflict of interest and the disclosures are there for my protection,” Poulos told the council. “For people that are volunteering for a town service or on town boards, they should feel it’s a great service to have a town attorney interpret legal language and make sure they are protected.”

While council chair Michael Riccio voiced his displeasure in the ordinance during previous meetings, he offered Town Attorney Mark Sciota his notarized disclosure form after reading a statement prior to the vote.

“When this proposal was presented to me, my first thought was around the future leaders of Southington,” Riccio said. “My questions were primarily around whether the disclosure would discourage potential high-quality people from running for town office on both sides of the aisle.”

He added, “Although I still struggle with this issue, I completely understand the motivation behind it.”

Riccio’s gesture was not required, as the ordinance states elected officials and town employees must disclose by Dec. 1, because the election in November could change who serves in the town. Now that the ordinance is officially adopted, it will go into effect 20 days from the May 8 vote.

After the municipal election, the politicians that take seats on the Town Council, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission, Board of Finance, and all non-union town employees will submit their financial disclosures to Attorney Sciota.

The new language can be found at southington.org/filestorage/17216/17738/30711/Public_Hearing_20170501084057.pdf

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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