An appointed town official is risking a conflict of interest due to her position on a private nonprofit organization whose work involves the very area of municipal government she’s charged with overseeing, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said last week.
Unknown to Moynihan and without permission, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Sally Campbell last year became vice chairman of the Waveny Park Conservancy, he said during a media briefing.
“She was there [on the Conservancy] as an ex-officio representative to the town government and she somehow thought it was right to become a legal board member and now she continues to come before her own Commission representing the Conservancy,” Moynihan said during the briefing, held in his office at Town Hall. “I don’t understand why she does that.”
He added: “It’s a pretty apparent conflict to me, and I’ve talked to her about it and I don’t understand why she doesn’t get it.”
Asked about her role on the Conservancy, Campbell told NewCanaanite.com in an email: “I am not sure what Kevin’s concern is. As first selectman he advocated to have town reps on many of the non profits in town, Waveny Conservancy being one of them.”
She added that she would discuss the matter with Moynihan.
During a subsequent phone interview, Campbell said she understood there to be a conflict only if she was chairman of Parks & Rec.
“I’m happy to serve any way,” she said, adding, “There is nothing nefarious happening here” and saying that Town Attorney Ira Bloom would be consulted when he returns to work in two weeks.
Moynihan’s comments came in response to a question at the briefing about Campbell’s failure to comply with state sunshine laws.
Parks & Rec did not publicly notice its subcommittee meetings during her chairmanship—a problem that culminated, in February, in the Board of Selectmen postponing a vote on proposed tennis fees due to an apparent illegal meeting. The following month, Campbell announced that she was stepping down as chairman of Parks & Rec. She stayed on a regular member of the advisory body, saying she would come off of it at year’s end. Immediately after a new chairman took over, the Commission began to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, with both the Paddle Tennis and Waveny Pool Advisory Committees noticing public meetings held on March 18 and April 10, respectively.
Under FOI law, a subcommittee of government bodies is itself a public agency that must open its meetings to the public.
Yet Campbell appeared not to change her practice as a regular commissioner. During the May 8 meeting of the Parks & Recreation Commission—the night before the media briefing with Moynihan—Campbell in providing the full body an update from its Waveny subcommittee said that she and fellow Commissioner Doug Richardson had met “within the past few weeks” with Recreation Director Steve Benko and Parks Superintendent John Howe to discuss a number of park-related items. That subcommittee meeting was not publicly noticed.
Regarding the meeting, Campbell said in her email that she asked town staff to post a public notice.
“That was the procedure that was agreed upon by our Commission after our FOI briefing by Carl Mason in March,” she said in the email. “Doug and I had no idea Steve did not post the meeting. The only other meeting our Commission had that I was aware of was a pool meeting that was posted.”
She referred to a FOI training session held in January at Town Hall, the result of the state Freedom of Information Commission’s unanimous vote against the town following a complaint brought by NewCanaanite.com in a case involving subcommittee work of the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee. Campbell did not attend the FOI training. The only member of Parks & Rec who did was Mason, a commissioner.
During the briefing, Moynihan said that “commission chairs were mandated to attend” it.
“There are a number of surprising things about how Sally operates,” Moynihan said.