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Montville - The Town Council does not have the authority to investigate Republican councilor Tom McNally for allegations including threatening a Project Graduation volunteer and his actions did not violate the town's Code of Ethics, according to a letter from Town Attorney Matthew Auger.
"Even if the allegations lodged against Mr. McNally were true, there would be no Ethics Code violation," Auger wrote in the June 17 letter, provided to The Day by McNally. The letter was addressed to McNally and Project Graduation co-chairman John Valliere, a family attorney based in Uncasville.
Members of Project Graduation, a nonprofit that organizes a sober party for graduating Montville High School seniors, filed a request with the town three weeks ago asking that the council investigate McNally's alleged threatening and harassment of Project Graduation volunteer Danielle Butzgy in an email exchange.
McNally tried to file a Freedom of Information request with Butzgy for the names of players on a team allegedly funded by the town Water Pollution Control Authority. Project Graduation is not a public agency and therefore not subject to state Freedom of Information law.
"I'm not trying to be difficult but if you refuse to provide the names I will have no choice but to file a complaint with FOI and you will be required to appear at a hearing in Hartford where when found in violation you can personally be fined," McNally wrote to Butzgy.
Valliere, who wrote the letter Project Graduation filed with the town, wrote in an email Monday, "I was very careful with my wording in my letter (signed by 12 others) to NOT ask for an ethics complaint, as I knew the Ethics Code in Montville is weak, and there was no ethics violation per se. I still believe what Mr. McNally did was wrong in terms of a Councilor in a small town threatening and intimidating a nonprofit volunteer."
Council Chairman Joseph Jaskiewicz, a Democrat, said Monday that based on excerpts from the email exchange Butzgy read at a council meeting, "I think Tom's conduct was inappropriate. That's my opinion."
"I'm just glad it's over," McNally said last week about the Project Graduation complaint.
Auger explained in the letter that the Code of Ethics is aimed at "preventing the public official from using his official capacity to obtain financial advantage for himself, family, business associates or business entities" in which he possesses a stake.
"None of the enumerated requirements prohibit the type of conduct that is the subject of Project Graduation's complaint against Mr. McNally," wrote Auger.
He added in a footnote, "Please know I have performed no independent investigation concerning the Project Graduation allegations as that was not part of my assignment. Accordingly, I do not pass judgment on the merits of the complaint. For purposes of my review, I take the allegations at face value."
McNally alleged in an ethics complaint lodged in early June that four town officials used WPCA funds to participate in a golf tournament benefiting Project Graduation. WPCA had made a donation of $2,500 to the nonprofit. McNally has since dropped the complaint and three of the officials have stated that they did not play on a WPCA-funded team.
Independence for Montville Chairman James Andriote later filed ethics complaints pertaining to the donation against WPCA Administrator Brian Lynch and Democratic town councilor and WPCA Chairman Tim May. Andriote said the donation posed a conflict of interest for May, whose son just graduated from the high school, and amounts to a violation of the Town Charter for Lynch.
Andriote filed a letter with the office of Mayor Ronald McDaniel last week asking that McDaniel recuse himself from any investigation of Lynch.
"My reason for making this request is this. You already have your mind made up and will not be making your decision based on facts, but based on pure politics," Andriote wrote in the complaint.
He went on to state that McDaniel's comments in a Day article in which the mayor referred to parts of the charter as "just not pragmatic" indicate that McDaniel does not care about the charter.
McDaniel said last week that he would take Andriote's letter into account and declined to comment further.