Susan Campbell

If talking about “ethics” and “Connecticut” sounds like a dive into oxymorons (jumbo shrimp, working vacation), then maybe officials at the Office of State Ethics have a point.

Officials want to see an ethics code in every municipality, as well as oversight to help educate and to enforce those codes, but the last time such legislation was introduced in 2021, the bill didn’t pass. Peter Lewandowski, executive director at the ethics office, said the main objection at the time was concern that the state was “chipping away at towns’ self-rule.”

But that argument is suspect, as Lewandowski said. Connecticut towns may need to get over their severe dedication to localism. The state is not 169 fiefdoms surrounded by moats.

An ethics code forms the framework for good behavior. A well-written code can forestall illegal activity, since laws are yesterday’s ethics. The office estimates that roughly 24 towns have no ethics code, and some Connecticut towns with codes could do a better job of educating residents as to how to report ethical concerns, or the reporting process is less than transparent or the code is not enforced, officials say. That leaves residents who suspect public malfeasance the option of contacting Lewandowski’s office, which doesn’t have jurisdiction over the state’s towns.

Without a code, residents and even public servants may be flying blind.

“Imagine removing all speed limits in town,” said Lewandowski. “The reason we post signs is for safety, and similarly, having an ethics code in place lets these people know ‘I cannot give gifts, I cannot hire my son for a municipal job.’”

All is not opaque. Guilford’s board of ethics recently revamped its code to include a section on situations where an official may have acted lawfully, but nevertheless acted in such a way as to create an appearance of impropriety. Deep River created a municipal ethics commission in 2021, and the town posts its code online. Some towns, such as New Haven, provide residents with a way to file complaints online.

Otherwise, some municipalities operate with scant little local oversight, and this is a state that could use oversight. Connecticut is home to sandy beaches, historic town greens, and a history of government corruption that occasionally supersedes the state nickname of Nutmeg State with Corrupticut.

That name (along with “Connecticon”) has been around forever, but one of the first times it appeared in print was in a March 2003 New York Times story that began,  “For the record, not everyone in Connecticut is a crook.”


Around that time, Joe Ganim, the mayor of Bridgeport was sentenced to nine years in prison on corruption charges; Philip Giordano, Waterbury’s sexual predator/mayor, was sentenced to 37 years in prison for sexually abusing two girls, ages 9 and 11, and Lawrence Alibozek, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. John G. Rowland, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

Gov. Rowland denied any knowledge of his aide’s bad behavior, and we know how that worked out. Rowland was sentenced to prison – twice – for accepting illegal gifts and for trying to hide payments for work he performed for a (failed) congressional campaign.

Imagine removing all speed limits in town. The reason we post signs is for safety, and similarly, having an ethics code in place lets these people know ‘I cannot give gifts, I cannot hire my son for a municipal job.’ PETER LEWANDOWSKI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, STATE ETHICS OFFICE

(Despite his best efforts, Giordano remains in prison. Last year, Rowland bought a home in Clinton that was formerly owned by the Baptist Missionary Society, and in 2015, Bridgeport voters overwhelmingly sent Ganim back to office, and he continues to serve.)

This is not an exhaustive list. Nor is it particularly current. Add to it Ernie Newton, former Bridgeport state representative, campaign finance fraud; Eddie Perez, Hartford mayor, for – among other charges – conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny by extortion, and conspiring to fabricate evidence, and Richard J. Colangelo, Jr., chief’s state’s attorney who recently retired during an investigation into improprieties. Colangelo denied some findings in an independent report, but his story added to the state’s already tattered reputation.

Most recently, the ethics office fined Henry Juan III, a former board member of the Connecticut Port Authority, $18,500 – one of the largest settlements issued by the state – after the office alleged that Juan illegally lobbied the authority on behalf of a company with which he was associated. Juan was not required to admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

With each ethical and legal miscue comes an attendant drop in public trust in the government, and we know how that works out, too.

When the highest court in the land doesn’t have a code of ethics, municipal ethics codes may feel a little like swimming upstream. But we can do this, Connecticut.

Author of "Frog Hollow: Stories From an American Neighborhood," "Tempest Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker," and "Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl." Find more at

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