Published July 11. 2014 4:00AM
Montville - The outside law firm hired to investigate a pair of ethics complaints filed by Independence for Montville Chairman James Andriote Sr. in relation to the Town Council's vote in April to decrease the required buffer between vendors and businesses that sell similar products has determined that town officials did not violate town policies.
Edward B. O'Connell, of the firm Waller, Smith & Palmer P.C., wrote in two July 3 letters marked "confidential" that Democratic Town Councilors Billy Caron, Chuck Longton, Tim May and Laura Tanner did not violate the town's Code of Ethics when they voted to decrease the buffer space. He also determined that Democratic Town Council Chairman Joseph Jaskiewicz did not violate town procedures in his handling of Andriote's first complaint about the vote, and town attorney Matthew Auger's receipt of that first complaint did not constitute a conflict of interest.
Andriote filed a complaint the day after the vote saying that the councilors voted in favor of decreasing the buffer space in order to benefit former Democratic Town Councilor Gary Murphy, who owns a hot dog cart. He later filed the complaint against Jaskiewicz and Auger, saying Jaskiewicz should not have given the complaint to Auger because it would have been a conflict of interest for Auger, who works for the council, to investigate the complaint.
O'Connell wrote in his letters, provided to The Day by Andriote, that the vote did not violate the Code of Ethics because, while Murphy may have benefited from the result, "the amended ordinance is applicable to all," and therefore the councilors did not grant special treatment to anyone. He also wrote that Murphy, who first raised the issue of the space, was allowed to do so despite being a former councilor.
As for the second complaint, he wrote, "Any conflict of interest regarding the investigation of the April 15 (first) complaint was rendered moot when responsibility for that investigation was given to the undersigned (O'Connell)."
"The mere fact that the Council Chairman delivered the complaint to the Town Attorney, when neither took part in the subsequent investigation, is not a conflict of interest," he wrote.
Councilors and Andriote said they were not surprised by O'Connell's findings.
"I'm not surprised because I knew what I did," said Jaskiewicz. "I was pretty confident that I didn't violate the ethics thing."
"I guess I'm happy. I didn't think there was ever any real issue and I think it's just Andriote playing a political stunt is the way to look at it," May said.
Andriote said he believed the original vote was political. He said he anticipated the outcome of the investigation because he believed Mayor Ronald McDaniel may have had connections to the law firm. McDaniel previously served as probate judge.
McDaniel held the position at the Montville Probate Court until the court merged with East Lyme, Old Lyme and Salem in 2011.
"I expected that answer. I never expected anything different. I didn't think it was going to go anywhere further," Andriote said.