Ethics panel supports decision that Norwich volunteer violated code

Norwich - The Ethics Commission wrangled over its decision last month to find that former City Hall volunteer Joanne Philbrick violated the city ethics code when she opened an interoffice mail envelope and read a letter addressed to Mayor Peter Nystrom.

Although the Ethics Commission hearing panel voted unanimously following the July 31 hearing that Philbrick had violated two provisions of the code, member Tamara Lanier on Monday questioned whether Philbrick knew the letter was confidential and whether she "disclosed" information in violation of the code.

After making amendments to the draft decision, the commission voted unanimously to affirm the original decision that Philbrick violated the code, offering Lanier the opportunity to file a varying opinion. It wouldn't be appropriate to write a dissenting opinion, because Lanier did vote in favor of the violation.

Lanier said she had second thoughts about the vote that followed the hearing and wished the commission had delayed a decision to allow members more time to consider evidence. The commission, however, has no provision for reopening a hearing, member Ira Misenheimer said.

Misenheimer said at the time members wanted to vote immediately rather than draw the matter out, especially after Philbrick admitted she opened the envelope and read the letter, apologized and resigned from two city commissions and from the volunteer City Hall docent position she held.

She also told the commission at the July 31 hearing that she would not seek appointment to city commissions in the future.

Chairman Robert Davidson said Monday he would draft a proposed provision to allow the commission to reopen a hearing to seek more information or to clarify points.

Nystrom's secretary, Bonnie Cuprak had filed the complaint after Philbrick had told City Manager Alan Bergren that she had seen a confidential letter regarding the city's negotiations to purchase property for a proposed downtown police station.

Bergren discussed the issue with the mayor. Cuprak and Bergren's secretary Jill Brennan then discussed how Philbrick could have seen the letter and checked a City Hall lobby security tape, which showed Philbrick untying the envelope string and reading the letter multiple times.

c.bessette@theday.com

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