Selectman Nick Williams on Tuesday signaled that, should an appointed town body find that New Canaan’s highest elected official committed ethics violations, he does not intend to take any action in the matter.
Williams is the only member of the three-person Board of Selectmen who is not involved in any way in a complaint lodged Nov. 1 with the Ethics Board. In it, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan is accused of violating the town’s Code of Ethics by using the authority of an elected office to write a letter endorsing Republican candidates for the Board of Education in the run-up to the municipal election last year. Moynihan has denied the accusation. (The letter and complaint can be viewed in full here.)
Filed by New Canaan resident Micaela Porta, the complaint named Selectman Kathleen Corbet as one of the witnesses who would be able to corroborate the allegations. Corbet’s involvement in the complaint, including correspondence with the town attorney, was fleshed out in communications that the Ethics Board requested as part of its investigation.
During a regular Board of Selectmen meeting this week, Williams and Corbet voted 2-0 to approve an April 5 legal bill from the office of the town attorney that included a $4,629.50 line item noted as “Ethics Board Filings.” (Moynihan was absent, recovering from an Easter morning stroke.)
Williams noted that the charge represented one of the large items on the legal bill, then said, “I had mentioned the legal spending on the ethics issue—or, in my opinion, non-issue. I would encourage our legislative branch to revisit that ordinance because I think it’s flawed. And I’m also concerned about the potential for partiality with respect to some of the folks on that commission.”
The Board of Selectmen cannot undo a finding of violation by the Ethics Board, under the Code of Ethics. Yet any such finding would be submitted to the Board of Selectmen “for such action as it deems appropriate,” under the Code.
As the subject of the complaint and witness named, Moynihan and Corbet presumably would be recused from weighing in or making such a decision, leaving Williams alone.
It isn’t clear what sort of sanction or remedy the Ethics Board would recommend in Moynihan’s case if a finding of violation is made. During the Ethics Board’s March 8 meeting, Chair Tucker Clauss said, “For me, how about an apology? How about an apology to the town? Or something like that, or a recommendation that there be further ethics training or that certain steps be taken with respect to the ethics training that does exist.”
Williams didn’t say what part of the Code of Ethics may be flawed, or who on the Ethics Board may be acting with impartiality.
The five-member Ethics Board itself is subject to the state law regarding minority party representation, and 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.”
The Ethics Board met several times in executive session, discussing the complaint out of the public eye in the weeks that followed its filing. Details were finally made public during an Ethics Board meeting in January, when the appointed body drafted a formal resolution that further investigation was warranted. Moynihan called the Board’s decision not to dismiss the complaint outright a “perversion and politicization” of the Code of Ethics. The Ethics Board since then has asked for (and received) additional information from the Republican Town Committee, which distributed Moynihan’s letter via snail-mail.
During a meeting last month, the Ethics Board said it’s focusing its investigation on two areas. Specifically, the Ethics Board is looking at whether Moynihan used public resources in working on the endorsement letter, and whether the letterhead on the document itself constitutes a violation of the Code.
It isn’t clear when the Ethics Board will meet next. A special meeting that had been scheduled for April 27 has been canceled.
The Moynihan investigation is separate from a recently launched Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission investigation into a poll worker accused of trying to influence voters outside the polling place at New Canaan High School on Election Day.