Montville ethics mess

Montville faces quite the conundrum. We are not surprised.

In Montville, the Town Council investigates ethics complaints. Making the most political body in town in charge of assuring everyone plays by the rules is sort of like putting a group of fans at the game in charge of judging the umpire's fairness. You'd have to question their impartiality and anticipate some bias.

And so it is with the seven-person council. One party is going to be in charge, which means the public and those filing complaints are likely to look skeptically at the council's ethical rulings, suspecting favoritism, even if perhaps it is not there.

If that were not bad enough, now the Montville council faces a situation in which it may not be able to act at all. Independence for Montville Party Chairman James Andriote Sr. has filed ethics complaints against four of the seven councilors, Democrats Billy Caron, Chuck Longton, Tim May and Laura Tanner, and a fifth against Democratic council Chairman Joseph Jaskiewicz, for supposedly mishandling the original complaint against the four.

Mr. Jaskiewicz has sought an opinion on the situation from Town Attorney Matthew Auger, but Mr. Andriote has filed a complaint against him as well, saying he faces an ethical conflict because the council appoints him.

The whole mess stems from a vote by the Democratic majority to reduce from one-mile to just 500 feet the buffer between a street vendor and the business his products may compete with. It's a bad change. There is no good reason to confront taxpaying businesses with this competition. This newspaper urged Mayor Ronald McDaniel to veto it. He chose not to. But that's beside the point.

A former councilor and Democrat, Gary Murphy, who operates a hot dog stand, had pushed for the change. Mr. Andriote sees that as an ethical conflict and filed his complaint.

We disagree. It may not look good, but unless council members expect to realize some financial gain from passing the ordinance that helps Mr. Murphy and other vendors, we see no ethical violation.

However, that too is beside the point. At issue is the fact that Montville, by continuing to have its council handle these complaints, is inviting chaos and undermining government credibility. Montville needs a separate, bipartisan ethics board.

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