The appointed town body investigating an ethics complaint lodged Nov. 1 against First Selectman Kevin Moynihan will seek additional information from the local political group that distributed an endorsement letter at the center of the matter, officials said Tuesday night.
Members of the New Canaan Ethics Board said during a regular meeting that they will ask the Republican Town Committee for a sample of the envelope that Moynihan’s letter was sent in, as well as any other printed material included in it.
“Those things might help with our interpretation of the thrust of the letter,” Ethics Board Chair Tucker Clauss said during the meeting, held at Town Hall. “And the other thing that I know we were talking about before, the list of [those] to whom the letter was mailed. And I don’t how many people that would be—let’s say it’s 2,000 people—I don’t know whether we want to get that document, but maybe we would want to inspect that document just to see what the mailing list looked like.”
“At some point we may want to talk to the Registrar [of Voters] about the list that we review from the RTC,” he added.
Clauss attended the meeting via teleconference, while the four other members of the Ethics Board—Secretary Tammie Garner, Steven Simon, Robert Scott and Alexandra Van Nes—attended in person. In addition to the press, guests at the meeting included Mim Moynihan, wife of the first selectman, Town Councilman Penny Young, who is mentioned by name in a correspondence file related to the investigation that is available at Town Hall, and Chris Wilson, a member of the RTC. Moynihan himself joined the meeting about 15 minutes after it had started.
Viewable here on the town website, the complaint alleges that Moynihan violated the town Code of Ethics in multiple ways when he described the Board of Education race to letter recipients while urging them to vote for the Republican slate. It was filed by Micaela Porta the day before Election Day. In January, the Ethics Board made a finding of probable cause that further investigation is warranted.
Moynihan has criticized the complaint itself as well as the Ethics Board’s resolution from January, calling it a “perversion and politicization.” The RTC also has issued a statement on the matter, saying in part: “It is customary for elected leaders to publicly endorse and support candidates of their parties. It is also their right to do so, as protected by the First Amendment; One does not forfeit their right to freedom of speech when elected. The RTC ardently supports the right of our First Selectman to support our candidates.”
Moynihan through his lawyer, Robert Russo of Fairfield-based Russo & Rizio LLC, responded Tuesday night to the complaint and Ethics Board resolution by saying, in part, that the Ethics Board does not have jurisdiction to the consider the complaint, which rightly should go to the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Further, “Mr. Moynihan was not involved in any way in the RTC’s compilation of new voter names and addresses as such information is freely available from the Registrar’s Office to the RTC and any candidate for office,” Russo said in the response.
Moynihan also is allowed under state law to make such endorsements, Russo said, the letter itself is protected political speech, and in any case the first selectman didn’t actually violate the Code of Ethics.
“We respectfully request that the Ethics Board consult with the Town Attorney or obtain independent legal advice about application of the Code and CT standards of ethics law to the Letter and to campaign endorsement literature of CT elected officials generally and immediately dismiss the Complaint without a hearing based on this sworn Response submitted on behalf of Mr. Moynihan,” Russo said in the response letter, provided to local press by Moynihan himself after the meeting.
Members of the Ethics Board said during the meeting that they would like to consult with independent counsel.
“I actually do think it’s going to be very important to move forward in getting special counsel to really assess this with us or help us so the earlier we can begin that process, the better,” Garner said.
Van Nes said it made sense to prepare for consulting legal counsel, though that may become unnecessary after the Ethics Board receives and reviews the supplemental documents from the RTC.
“I would like us to discuss the option of consulting outside counsel if we decide it’s necessary, so teeing it up is appropriate,” she said. “I think we could decide based on submissions and what we review that we don’t need it, but we should talk about getting approval to do it if we need it.”
Schott noted that in addition to the letter and information on where the RTC acquired its mailing list, the Ethics Board should get a sense of “the expenses associated with it, that the RTC paid for it in its entirety.”
“Once we establish those three facts, or those three things, that will go a long way to determine where we need to fall down on this,” he said.
Clauss said he didn’t disagree.
“I think the sources of the [mailing] list—I’m not not sure that there may be a time period over which it was filled,” he said. “There might be several issues there that might be useful but I’m not sure it’s all going to be relevant. But I think at least the letter, the envelope and reviewing the mailing list and getting confirmation about some facts around it would be very useful.”
He added, “So if the RTC expresses an interest in cooperating, there’s no reason not to—we have subpoena power, and I am very hopeful that we don’t have to use subpoena power to get any information. So I think this is just an approach to the RTC asking for certain information.”
The Ethics Board also said it would consult with the town attorney about whether future discussions around the ongoing investigation are exempt from state sunshine laws and therefore can be held in executive session, out of the public eye.
Asked whether the Ethics Board would need further testimony as part of the ongoing investigation, Clauss said, “I don’t know that we will need any but let’s see what documents we get, if anything, and go from there. There’s no need to make decision on that right now.”
Clauss said he would draft a letter requesting the information from the RTC for Garner’s review and then distribution and review to the full Ethics Board.