New Canaan’s highest-elected official last week voiced criticism of an appointed town body’s finding that further investigation is warranted into a complaint that he violated the Code of Ethics in the run-up to November’s municipal election.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan in a Jan. 5 email to the Board of Selectmen, Town Council, Board of Finance, Audit Committee and Board of Ed chair called the complaint lodged Nov. 1 by a town resident “spurious.” In it, the complainant, Micaela Porta, said that Moynihan “using his position as first selectman violated several sections of the town Ethics Code when he sent an undated letter to all residents of New Canaan prior to the town’s Nov. 2, 2021 municipal election,” according to a citation that the Ethics Board made at its Jan. 4 meeting.
Specifically, Porta in the complaint “asserts that the letter mischaracterizes the voting rules at issue, that it was ‘misleading to voters seeking to understand how our municipal government works’ in general and in the then-pending election, and that the letter thereby granted preferential treatment to candidates preferred by the respondent,” the Ethics Board said in a resolution that concludes that there’s “probable cause” to “conduct further proceedings to determine whether the letter violates” the Code of Ethics.
Moynihan in his email, which he forwarded to the l local press, said, “I feel strongly that the Ethic Board’s decision not to dismiss outright the spurious complaint by Ms. Porta, with the apparent support of two leading local Democratic officials, is a perversion and politicalization of the Ethics Board process that we intended when we created the Ethics Board when I served on the TC and co-led the effort to adopt the Ethics Board Ordinance. To me, this episode represents a sad statement about the level to which political discourse in New Canaan has declined that local Democrats would abuse our governmental process and that the Ethics Board would take action without the advice of expert legal counsel. I’m confident that my First Amendment right to free political speech will be upheld.”
The Ethics Board said further investigation is warranted as to whether Moynihan violated three parts of 17-2 of the Code of Ethics, which deals with “Standards of conduct.” They say:
“No official or employee shall, in the discharge of his or her duties, grant (i) preferential treatment to any person or entity beyond that which is available to all other persons or entities, or (ii) any favor, service or thing of value except when such favors, services or things of value are made available to the general public.”
“Use of Town property. No official or employee shall use, or permit the use of, Town property of any nature, including vehicles, equipment, resources, supplies or real property, for the benefit of himself or herself, except when such (i) is provided as municipal policy for the use of such official or employee in furtherance of the official’s or employee’s conduct of official business, or (ii) is made available to the general public and then on terms and conditions not more favorable than those available to the general public.”
“Use of Town position. No official or employee shall use his or her position, or knowledge acquired through that position which is not available to the general public, for the purpose of obtaining or furthering a financial interest or a personal interest.”
Moynihan in his response letter said that the complaint “attempts to politicize the Ethics Board process and misuse the code to cast aspersions on my character and my integrity and to chill my right of free speech guaranteed by Article I of the U.S. Constitution.” He said the complaint names as witnesses Selectman Kathleen Corbet and former Selectman Beth Jones, “who are two leading Democrats in New Canaan, further evidence of Ms. Porta’s attempt to politicize the Ethics Board process.”
(Under the Code of Ethics, “The Ethics Board shall consist of five electors of the Town who shall serve without compensation” and “No more than three shall be registered in the same political party.”)
Moynihan in his denial letter said the complaint is attack on his own ethics and character. “I have been a resident of New Canaan for 40 years during which time I have taken an active role in numerous charitable and community activities including town government. I have been an attorney and member of the bar for 47 years. I have aways placed the highest importance on conducting myself in an ethics manner in my personal and professional life, including by adhering to the ethics precepts applicable to members of the bar and to New Canaan’s Code of Ethics. My wife and I raised our two children in New Canaan and I value my reputation in New Canaan.”
He continues, “I have never in my life been accused of unethical conduct until Ms. Porta filed her complaint. I am deeply disturbed by this unfounded and malicious attack on my ethics, character and reputation. And I am saddened that New Canaan politics, which historically has been characterized by civility and mutual respect, has sunk to this lamentably low level in the 2021 election. I urge the Ethics Board to immediately dismiss Ms. Porta’s complaint.”
The volunteer Republican Town Committee issued this statement regarding the matter: “We are writing to address the ethics complaint by Micaela Porta against First Selectman Kevin Moynihan which related to a letter sent by the New Canaan Republican Town Committee (RTC) during the election. Kevin Moynihan, as our First Selectman, is the senior most elected Republican in New Canaan and the effective leader of the New Canaan Republican Party. In that capacity, the New Canaan Republican Town Committee requested he write a one page letter on behalf of our Republican Board of Education candidates to newly registered voters, including Republicans and also unaffiliated voters. 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. No materials or resources of the Town of New Canaan were used. The RTC paid for all materials: printing, envelopes, labels and postage. The required disclosure that the RTC paid for the mailing was printed at the bottom of letter – as is the case with all materials sent or paid for by the RTC: ‘Paid for by the New Canaan RTC, Gene Goodman Treasurer’; The RTC created our mailing list using publically available information from New Canaan’s Registrar of Voters. The RTC directs those interested to read First Selectman Moynihan’ response to the Ethics Complaint.”
Here’s the full text of Moynihan’s letter, including words in bold or uppercase:
“Kevin J. Moynihan
Town of New Canaan
Dear New Resident,
As a newcomer to New Canaan, you may not be familiar with the upcoming municipal election on Tuesday, November 2, and you may be confused by the ballot. I am writing to help explain the process for voting.
I am proud to be leading the Republican slate of candidates on the November 2 ballot, or ‘Row B.’ In addition to our unopposed incumbents in the offices of First Selectman, Selectmen, Town Treasurer, Town Clerk, Town Council and others, we have a very important contest for the Board of Education this election cycle.
This year, 5 of the 9 BOE seats with 4-year terms are up for election and there is also a special election for a BOE vacancy with a remaining 2 years of a 4-year term. Because Democrats, as the minority party in New Canaan, are guaranteed a minimum of 2 sears under CT law, there are only 3 Republican candidates for the 5 seats with 4-year terms versus 5 Democrat candidates.
I urge you to vote ONLY for the ‘Row B’ Republican candidates: Julie Toal, Phil Hogan, and Dan Bennett for 4-year terms, and Hugo Alves for the special election seat. The remaining two seats can be determined by voters under guaranteed minority party representation.
The Republican BOE candidates all have young children in our schools and are accomplished individuals who stand for academic excellence, fiscal common sense, local control, better curriculum oversight, especially on new initiatives and improved communication to all parents.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there is ‘no excuse’ absentee ballot voting under rules adopted by the CT legislature last summer. If you will be unable to or prefer not to vote in person on November 2nd you may go to Town Hall, 77 Main Street, any weekday before 8:00AM and 4:00PM and vote by absentee ballot at the Town Clerk’s office.
REMEMBER: VOTE ROW B – ONLY!
Paid for by the New Canaan RTC, Gene Goodman Treasurer”
[Note: A sentence referring to publication of the complaint has been removed from this article, as it has been added to public documentation available through the town’s website.]