The Government Elections and Administration Committee took a step forward toward eradicating political corruption at the municipal level today when it approved a bill that would force cities and towns to adopt a code of ethics by 2007. The substitute bill calls for municipalities to establish procedures to investigate allegations of misconduct by its public officials, public employees, and paid consultants.
The state has yet to pass its own contract reform package. The General Assembly has passed legislation toward that end three times, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed all three attempts. State Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport, said that municipalities, like the state, routinely award multi-million dollar contracts and in most towns there is “no process for the public to address the behavior of public officials.“Two Glastonbury residents, Karen Emerick and Dana Evans, know what Caruso means all too well. Earlier this week they were in Hartford Superior Court filing writs of mandamus to enforce their legal rights. Since 2003, Emerick and Evans have been asking the Glastonbury Ethics Commission to specify how the public may initiate complaints alleging a violation of code, or how the public might request access to the commission’s advisory opinions.They say they have yet to receive an answer, though Emerick says she was told on one occasion, in letter from the ethics commission chairperson, that “the commission would not accept complaints directly from the public.” Evans said she had wanted information on a code that would allow public officials to represent a developer and others doing business in the town, but was told advisory opinions are not for the public.If it becomes law, the substitute bill approved by the committee today will change that. After filing and winning numerous state Freedom of Information Commission complaints and non-compliance actions against the Glastonbury Ethics Commission, Emerick and Evans said they felt they had exhausted all other avenues.Tuesday after filing the writ, Emerick said there should be a regional ethics commission, so that people on the commission don’t hear cases from residents in their own town. She said she would support a statewide ethics code that doesn’t require public officials to disclose the contents of their bank accounts, but they would have to disclose all financial interests in property and list the names of their limited liability companies and private employers. The substitute House bill that the committee approved today prohibits public officials and public employees from representing private interests against the interests of their employer municipality, and closes the loophole in the revolving door policy so public officials can’t take jobs with private companies that do business with the town. Before it can become law, the bill still must be approved by the House, the Senate, and Rell.Susan G. Kniep, former East Hartford mayor and president of the Connecticut Taxpayers Association, said that every time a public official writes a local ethics code for a town so that in the future he may, as an elected or former official, do business with the town – then the taxpayer loses. “Without strong ethics laws on a local level, common sense tells you that local elected officials cannot police their own,” Kniep said.