December 6, 2021

Letter to the Editor: Who is Old Lyme’s Ethics Ombudsman?

To the Editor:

Who is Old Lyme’s Ethics Ombudsman?

The answer depends on which town official you ask.

When asking  the Ethics Commission Chairman, she indicated that she wasn’t sure that the position exists.

When asking the Town Clerk’s office, they indicated that the current Democratic Registrar of Voters is the Ethics Ombudsman … but that can’t be. Old Lyme’s Code of Ethics states that the Ethics Ombudsman cannot hold any other elected or appointed office in the town. This would clearly be a violation of the Ethics Code.

A review of meeting minutes of the Ethics Commission indicated there is no record of vote to appoint an Ombudsman. The Ethics Commission has the responsibility of appointing the Ombudsman; failure not to appoint the Ombudsman would be a violation of the Ethics Code.

The losers here are town officials and town employees, who are not afforded the option of seeking advice about ethical and conflict of interest issues that arise in their duties.

Sincerely,

William Folland,
Old Lyme.

Comments

  1. Thomas D. Gotowka says

    Do other towns have a specifically named “Ethics Ombudsman”, or do they rely on their respective ethics commissions?
    In Old Lyme, the Ethics Commission has “the authority to evaluate, investigate and/or hear written complaints concerning allegations of violations of the Ethics Code”.
    About a year ago, the current Chairperson, Jane Cable, had said that the Commission was, at that time, dysfunctional and under-resourced. She also said the Ethics Code required a complete re-write.
    Regardless, it seems that the Commission is where you should begin; even lacking an ombudsman.
    If you have an immediate issue, or the Commission isn’t responsive, I guess you could address the issue to Peter Lewandowski, Executive Director of The Connecticut Office of State Ethics.

    • Charlotte Scot says

      I think the idea of an Ethics Ombudsman sounds great. I suggest that the person chosen is not affiliated with either the Democrats or Republican but rather represents the plurality of Old Lyme voters who are unaffiliated. It would also be nice to have an unaffiliated registrar of voters.

  2. William Folland says

    Old Lyme’s Ethics Ombudsman position was created in part to prevent ethics complaints from being filed. The Ombudsman would issue an advisory opinion once an a town official or town employee submitted their concern in writing.

    Yes, several towns have created the position of Ombudsman.

    Ct State law is quite clear, the states Office of Ethics has no jurisdiction over a towns Ethics Commission. That being said I do believe there are other issues where state law has been violated.

  3. As a former Old Lyme Ethics Commission member (2008-2020), I’m offering some information that may be helpful. Jane Cable attended a couple meetings before I left the committee, and I don’t recall her mentioning anything about the committee being dysfunctional and under-resourced and the Ethics Code requiring a complete re-write. Mr. Gotowka should cite his resource (when and where were these claims made). If this was her view, it would be great to hear why and what she’s doing about it. She’s still listed as the Chair and the meeting minutes don’t include a complete re-write of the Code. The last meeting minutes posted were March 2021. If there’s no ombudsman, the committee should make this a priority as it’s an important position.

    Mr. Folland – since you attended just about all of the Ethics committee meetings as the Code was being developed and the committee was being established as well as the committee meetings for the first couple years, I trust you recall the role of the ombudsman. Copied here for reference:

    When any public official, officer, or public employee has a question as to the applicability of any provision of this code to a particular situation or as to the definition of terms used herein, he or she may apply, in writing, to the ombudsman for an advisory opinion. Good faith reliance by such public official, officer or public employee on such advisory opinion shall be considered by the Ethics Commission in any subsequent proceeding brought pursuant to § 43-8.

    Note that it does not include “to prevent ethics complaints from being filed”. Nor was this the intent or ever discussed. I encourage you to contact the Ethics committee Chair if you need assistance.

  4. William Folland says

    The ethics Ombudsman is the advisor for town official/employees to answer their ethics concerns as they pertain to the Ethics Code. In receiving this advice it is reasonable to assume this will prevent an ethics issue that could result in an ethics complaint.

    The advice given to the official/employee does not necessarily prevent a complaint from being filed, but as the code indicates the advice given by the Ombudsman will be considered in the decision involving the complaint.

    Hope this helps, and yes I have communicated with the Ethics Committee Chairman on my concerns.

  5. Thomas D. Gotowka says

    Here are two sources. I was curious about Mr. Folland’s Ombudsman issue, and these popped up during my search. Clearly, they cover the same subject.
    February 18, 2021; The CT Examiner: “Calling Ethics Commission ‘Totally Dysfunctional,” Chair Proposes New Rules”
    https://ctexaminer.com/2021/02/18/calling-ethics-commission-totally-dysfunctional-chair-calls-for-new-rules/
    February 23, 2021; The Middletown Press: “Chairwoman: ‘Totally dysfunctional’ Old Lyme Ethics Commission needs new rules”
    https://www.middletownpress.com/middletown/article/Chairwoman-Totally-dysfunctional-Old-Lyme-15971843.php
    Note that the Examiner had a few pieces regarding ethics.

  6. Thanks for sharing these. An interesting perspective.

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