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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Westport Rated Almost at Bottom on State Ethics Survey

Westport rates almost at the bottom of a list in a survey by a state watchdog group of city and town ethics laws.

The survey by Connecticut Common Cause was released Tuesday at a Hartford news conference.

Among the cities and towns in the Westport area, Stamford and Bridgeport scored the highest on the survey, with a 5, followed by Darien, Fairfield and Weston, which got at 4. Easton, Greenwich, Norwalk, New Canaan and Wilton scored 3s. Westport got a 1. The lowest rating was 0.

The group said while Westport had a code of ethics, it did not fare well in its other ethics-related survey categories.

But it said most of the other communities in the state did not do well either. Out of a possible score of 10 in the survey, the state’s 169 cities and towns had an average score of 2.2.

Common Cause said if the Legislature passes a pending municipal ethics reform bill, cities and towns would get a passing grade on ethics compliance.

The municipal ethics bill and others under consideration by the Legislature come in the wake of former Gov. John Rowland’s July resignation over a scandal that included free gifts and jet travel from state contractors and subordinates.

The report found that 69 towns don’t have a code of ethics. Of those, only six require department heads, boards or counsels to act on local ethics board recommendations. Only 10 towns require local officials to disclose the source of their incomes and just one town requires municipal lobbyists to register.

Common Cause said it researched all 169 municipal codes of ethics and used the state’s model code of ethics as a barometer.

It graded the communities on whether they had any of 34 different standards, including whether they had an ethics code, required financial disclosure of income sources by public officials, required officials to accept and act on recommendations of their ethics commission, limited gifts, prohibited officials from representing private interests before municipal agencies or required disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

Westport’s Town Charter contains a conflict of interest section and recently the town’s auditors asked members of all elected and appointed boards and commissions to acknowledge in writing their adherence to the provisions. The pertinent section (C38-2) reads:

“No Town employee or any member, whether elected or appointed, of any Board, Commission, Agency, Committee, Department or of the Representative Town Meeting of the Town shall participate in any official capacity in the hearing or decision upon any matter in which such person has, directly or indirectly, a personal or financial interest. In the event of such disqualification, such fact shall be entered on the records of the commission or board.

“Any Town employee or any member, whether elected or appointed, of any Board, Commission, Agency, Committee, Department or of the Representative Town Meeting of the Town shall disclose any financial interest or any personal beneficial interest, either directly or indirectly, in any contract or purchase order for supplies, materials, equipment or services furnished to or used by the Town. Such disclosure shall be immediate and thereafter shall be made annually to the Office of the Town Clerk of the Town of Westport. This disclosure shall not apply to the mere ownership of up to 5% of the outstanding shares of publicly traded companies. 

“No Town employee or any member, whether elected or appointed, of any Board, Commission, Agency, Committee, Department or of the Representative Town Meeting of the Town shall accept or receive, directly or indirectly, from any person, firm or corporation to which any contract or purchase order has been awarded by the Town, any money, or anything of value whatsoever, or any promise for future reward. This prohibition shall not apply to political contributions made in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, nor to items of de minimus value.”

In addition, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) has an Ethics Committee as well as a separate section (A162-20) in its Rules of Procedure which says:

“The Town Charter provides that no member shall, in his or her official capacity, participate in the hearing or decision upon any matter in which he or she has a financial interest. All members should be most sensitive to permitting any appearance of such a conflict to exist, even though a complete disclosure of all circumstances would show that an actual conflict did not exist in a particular case. The individual member shall decide in any given situation whether he or she is faced with such conflict. Such decision shall not preclude the Representative Town Meeting from determining that a conflict of interest does, in fact, exist; but the determination of the Representative Town Meeting shall not prevent the member from voting or participating.”

(Editor’s note: The Moderator of the RTM is also editor of WestportNow.com)


Posted 04/27/05 at 03:00 PM  Permalink


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Could it be that we are so damn ethical that it offends us to think we’re not?

Posted by lhymans on April 27, 2005 at 04:59 PM | #

I am offended to be incorporated as a group with that slezbag.  I am very offended.

Posted by lhymans on April 27, 2005 at 05:07 PM | #

I would expect that all candidates for the First Selectperson position would take on this issue. Its great to have a Code of Ethics but it is better to have a culture within Town government that fosters and mandates compliance to high ethical standards. Is this type of culture evident in Westport?

Posted by Tom Bloch on April 27, 2005 at 06:03 PM | #

I just moved to Westport, and I dont think that this town has any culture, thats for sure. The other day I went to the beach and saw two kids having sex in a late-model lexus…it was disgusting. The girl was no older than 15. I have also heard racist mutterings during my morning commute at the train station, such as when an elderly woman called the conductor a ‘coal miner.’ So far, I hate this town, and I am looking at places in Darien. No offense, but I drive a Volvo, my rent is way too high, and the people are unfriendly and largely middle aged and overweight.

Posted by Jeremiah Wimmel on April 27, 2005 at 06:56 PM | #

Hey Jeremiah, “no offense” but don’t let the doorknob hit you on the way out.

Posted by happywithwestport on April 27, 2005 at 08:40 PM | #

Westport doesn’t have good ethics? According to whom? This watchdog group is probably self serving. There have been instances of poor ethics in town.. but certainly no worse than any surrounding town. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Westport’s the best town for ethics in the entire country!  We’re so politically/ethically correct, we’re tripping over ourselves. And as far as kids having sex in cars at the beach?? Parents, where are you???

Posted by Mary Gai on April 27, 2005 at 09:15 PM | #

Darien is more “cultured” and chaste, less racist, cheaper, friendlier, younger, and thinner?  Who knew?  Let’s all move.

Posted by wag on April 27, 2005 at 09:25 PM | #

Jeremiah, after thinking about my comment, I realized that all I accomplished was giving you one more reason to hate Westport. For this, I apologize as that was not my intention.  I guess that I’m so saddened when people bad-mouth our beautiful town.  I moved here several years ago and I must admit that I have had some unpleasant run-ins, but for the most part people here are really great.  Maybe you just haven’t had the chance to meet the right ones yet.  The odds are in your favor though, and hopefully you too will love Westport someday.

Posted by happywithwestport on April 27, 2005 at 09:34 PM | #

Isn’t that kind of shallow Jeremiah? You are leaving because kids were having sex in a “late model” Lexus and people are middle aged and overweight. So I guess kids in Darien use newer cars and people are younger and more fit? I guess we do having something to aspire to. Westporters have always been overachievers.

Posted by Jim Ezzes on April 28, 2005 at 10:41 AM | #

I only find this particularly interesting as it comes in the wake of Westport’s poor performance on the Fairfield University survey of Freedom of Information Act compliance.

Posted by Chris Grimm on April 28, 2005 at 11:28 AM | #

Vis a vis Chris Grimm’s comment, the whole town government culture is ugly. While there are exceptions, I find town employees generally act as if they’re doing me a favor when they deign to help me. And the level of incompetence—visible most recently in the assessor’s and tax collector’s offices while trying to straighten out my incorrect (not to mention illegal, but that’s the administration’s fault) back tax assessment—can be astounding. I can’t speak for other towns. I’ve lived here “only” twelve years. And I have no idealized Westport of my youth to buffer my more recent experiences. So I’d have to say that Westport doesn’t have an appealing public face.

Posted by R.C. on April 28, 2005 at 12:46 PM | #

My goodness, what a discontented lot.  In the 30 or so years I’ve lived in Westport I have never, ever dealt with a town official who wasn’t helpful, courteous and friendly,  often taking an extra step with other departments to help me find what I needed.  Perhaps it’s the approach that makes a difference???

As for Darien - when I house hunted there in 1964 with my then husband, a realtor told us “we send our coloreds home at night.”  In the 1940s and 50s Darien was known as Gentleman’s Agreement country because it did not welcome Jews.  I trust and hope things have changed in that community but it has always left me with a feeling of discomfort.

I totally agree that we have no culture -I mean, afterall, the Metropolitan Opera doesn’t have an extension here.  We just have to make do with the Playhouse, the Arts Center, the Westport Players,
the Historical Society, the offerings at the library,
etc. We surely are deprived.

What we definitely have is a lack of parenting in many instances.

Posted by Janet Beasley on April 28, 2005 at 03:07 PM | #

We cant help it if some of us are over weight and middle aged. Late model Lexus….thats hot.

Posted by Taters on April 28, 2005 at 04:12 PM | #

This letter from Jeremiah has to be a joke. No one can be that stupid. Thanks for laffs. Jeremiah have fun in Aryan, you perverted ahol.

Posted by Taters on April 28, 2005 at 05:28 PM | #

Ms. Beasley,

It may also be your age. My guess is that town employees see me coming, think “Soccer Mom,” and lump me in with those parents whose poor skills you bemoan. The “my child can do no wrong” parent is often also a “you can do no right” consumer of town services. I am an old-fashioned parent and a not-unpleasant consumer of services. I moved to Westport from NYC (where, by and large, I found people much friendlier, and much less status-conscious) and have found Westport a mixed bag. Some great services, some great people, but a lot of unpleasantness, too (check out a Board of Ed meeting sometime).

Posted by R.C. on April 28, 2005 at 10:55 PM | #

Perhaps this discussion needs to be ended.  What Ms. Beasley is commenting on regarding darien happened here in westport too, and many of the surrounding towns back then, just maybe did not happen to her.  All towns were very different 30 years ago.  With that being said, it is not fair to bring other towns down in this forum.  Darien is a great small town, just like weston, and even westport.  People have their own opinions…some like it in town, some don’t and it is great to vent, but this was not the original focus.

Posted by ed on April 28, 2005 at 11:03 PM | #

The RTM has been trying to get a code of ethics through for at least twenty years.  Let’s hope it can succeed within the next year.  No doubt it won’t be perfect, but let us at least try to reach for the stars.

Posted by Carole Donenfeld on April 29, 2005 at 12:00 PM | #