Norwich woman found in violation of city’s ethics code

Norwich — An Ethics Commission hearing panel ruled Tuesday that former City Hall volunteer docent Joanne Philbrick violated two city ethics code provisions when she opened an interoffice mail envelope addressed to Mayor Peter Nystrom and read the letter.

During her testimony at Tuesday’s public hearing on an ethics complaint against her, Philbrick quickly admitted that she opened the envelope and read the letter pertaining to the city’s negotiations to acquire downtown property for a proposed police station. Philbrick called it “a mistake” and said she had to face the consequences for her actions.

The mayor’s secretary, Bonnie Cuprak, filed the complaint May 22 after viewing a City Hall security tape that showed Philbrick removing the envelope from the mayor’s box and reading the contents multiple times. Several days after the March 28 incident, Philbrick met with City Manager Alan Bergren, who had written the letter, and told him she had seen it.

Philbrick became emotional during her testimony Tuesday and said she felt “embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated and humbled” at the incident and apologized to everyone she offended, including her family and supporters.

“I put everyone in this room in an awkward position,” Philbrick said.

She said she has always had a passion for politics but now will step back from that arena.

Ethics Commission hearing committee members all thanked Philbrick for her candor and for accepting responsibility for her actions. Committee Chairman Joseph Sastre called her testimony “very refreshing.”

Committee member Marcia Marien said perhaps the city ethics ordinance could be amended to allow for the complaint review process to be “stopped” if someone comes forward and admits guilt at the start.

The commission hearing panel voted unanimously that Philbrick violated the “general conduct” and the “disclosure of confidential information” provisions of the Conflict of Interest section of the ethics code.

The full commission will present its formal finding at its Aug. 13 regular meeting. But Philbrick already has resigned from the docent position and from her appointed positions on the city Harbor Management Commission and the Personnel and Pension Board.

“I never intend to ask to be appointed to another board or commission,” she told the hearing committee.

Cuprak told the committee that in a change of policy, all confidential interoffice mail is being hand-delivered directly to the recipient’s office in the wake of the March 28 incident. Prior to that, she said it was common practice to place interoffice mail in the recipient’s City Hall mailbox. She said there had been no problems under the honor system until now.

Cuprak told the committee that she worked for years at the state Capitol, where interoffice mail also was placed in people’s mailboxes.

“Always, always, it’s a golden rule that you don’t read other people’s mail,” Cuprak said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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