On July 20, 2016, the New Canaan Town Council passed an ordinance creating an Ethics Board to review and modify the then-existing Town Ethics Code, address alleged violations of that Code, and render advisory opinions about ethics issues to Town officials and employees. In the November 2016 election, Town electors approved the Charter changes needed to accomplish these goals and the five member Ethics Board began working on its assigned tasks shortly thereafter.
Ethics Board Activities During the Past Five Years
Since 2016, the Ethics Board has rewritten the Town’s Ethics Code and the Town’s Whistleblower Policy, each of which was approved and adopted by the Town Council and the Board of Selectmen, respectively. The Board has also received, analyzed and dismissed for lack of probable cause several formal Ethics Complaints; issued an Advisory Opinion to a candidate for Town office; informally discussed aspects of the Ethics Code with Town Officials; responded, again informally, to questions about the Ethics Code from Town citizens and members of the press; and formally responded to several Freedom of Information Act requests. Finally, the Board has made presentations about the Ethics Code and the Whistleblower Policy to Town employees, boards and committees. (The Ethics Code, the Whistleblower Policy, and the Board’s minutes, resolutions, opinions and annual reports can be found on the Ethics Board webpage on the Town’s website.)
Substance of the Town’s Ethics Code
The substantive provisions of the Ethics Code are found in Chapter 17, Section 17-2 of the Town Code. These rules cover:
- Conflicts of interest, both financial and personal, and the need for disclosure and recusal from participating in and voting on conflicted matters;
- Disclosure of a financial interest in Town transactions;
- Disclosure of financial or personal interests in Town rules, ordinances and legislation;
- Gifts and preferential treatment;
- Use of Town property;
- Use of confidential Town information or Town position for financial or personal gain;
- Nepotism and proscribed political behavior.
Procedures and Forms
The procedural rules and processes for filing and handling of formal ethics complaints and requests for advisory opinions are contained in Section 17-4 and 17-5 of the Ethics Code. Complaint and request forms can be found on the Board’s webpage. The most notable aspects of the complaint process are the strict confidentiality requirements imposed by state and local law which mandate that Ethics complaints and the Board’s analysis and investigation thereof are to be kept confidential unless and until the Board makes a finding of probable cause to proceed to public hearings on the complaint. There are no similar confidentiality provisions governing the request process but the Board will strive to maintain the confidentiality of all matters not required by law to be disclosed.
Ongoing and Future Activities
Apart from handling complaints, requests and inquiries, the Board expects to continue its educational presentations and activities to Town bodies, employees and citizens and welcomes the opportunity to discuss the Ethics Code and Whistleblower Policy with interested groups. The Board also expects to formally support the Town’s Human Resources Department in recommending changes to some Town ordinances to address potential issues with the Board’s appellate responsibilities for grievance matters.
Town of New Canaan Ethics Board
Thomas F. Clauss, Jr., chair
Tammie C. Garner, secretary
Alexandra Van Nes