Saying some details needed to be worked out, the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday deferred its vote to approve an updated policy designed to help public officials report wrongdoing.
The selectmen during their regular meeting discussed a revised version of New Canaan’s “whistleblower policy” with Tucker Clauss, chairman of the Board of Ethics, the appointed body that’s been developing it.
First issued in 2012, the policy needed to be updated so that it covered not only Town Hall but also the Board of Education, Clauss said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. The language of the existing policy also needed to be clear that it didn’t override other requirements, such as for teachers to report suspected abuse or neglect to the appropriate legal and regulatory authorities, Clauss said.
There’s also a provision in the policy now in place that deals with immunity from criminal prosecution.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Clauss said. “I don’t know how it could possibly exist.”
The draft policy he presented aims to encourage town employees and elected and appointed officials to feel safe in reporting “evidence of wrongdoing relating to the official duties or service of another employee, public official or contractor” without fear of reprisals.
While praising Clauss and the ethics board for the months of work that have gone into the draft policy, Williams voiced several concerns about its details.
Mostly, he called for more specificity in the policy’s defined terms.
For example, one part of the proposed policy states that “the scope, conduct and nature of the investigation will be decided, in accordance with applicable law, by (i) the person receiving the report in consultation with, as appropriate and applicable, the Town’s Director of Human Resources, the Town Administrator, the First Selectman, the Public School’s Director of Human Resources, the Superintendent of Schools, or the Chair of the Board of Education, or (ii) the Ethics Board.”
Selectman Nick Williams, a lawyer, said he had questions about how many officials the policy listed in connection with an investigation, as well as the uncertainty of who would do what in the event of an investigation.
Clauss said that that part of the policy was designed to give flexibility to how individual complaints are handled. He added that the it addressed the Board of Education’s concern that a neutral body should investigate complaints about the superintendent of schools or the school board itself.
Ultimately, the Board—First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, Selectman Kit Devereaux and Williams—agreed to wait until some details had been hammered out before approving the revised policy.
Devereaux asked whether the policy covers complaints against elected officials.
Clauss said that the definition of ‘whistleblower’ in the policy refers to any “town employee or public official who, in good faith, reports alleged wrongdoing by another town employee, public official or contractor as it relates to his, her or its official duties or services for the town.” That includes alleged wrongdoing by an elected official, he said.
Devereaux also asked whether there’s any possible recourse against elected officials under the draft policy.
Clauss said he didn’t have an answer for her, but acknowledged it was a question that “permeates our entire society.”
Moynihan said New Canaan’s legislative body, the Town Council, may consider an ordinance to address that recourse.