Ethics complaints dismissed against Norwich disc golf course committee
Norwich — The Ethics Commission last week dismissed two ethics complaints filed against the proposed disc golf course in Mohegan Park where a controversial plan for a botanical garden was scrapped in 2018.
Charles Evans, whose Butternut Drive property abuts the land proposed for the disc golf course, filed two complaints against the Mohegan Park Improvements and Development Advisory Committee, which has a disc golf course subcommittee. Evans had led the effort to derail the Chelsea Gardens botanical garden plan.
Evans, in an email response to requests for comment, said the disc golf plan was approved by the City Council and moved forward “with little or no due diligence.” He said the disc golf was fraught with “overwhelming ethical lapses,” and contradicts comments by city officials that the area should be left to regrow after six acres had been cleared for the botanical garden project.
“This is a pet project for the people placed in control of the park, nothing more,” Evans wrote, “the same people who promised these woods would never be touched again by anyone once (the Chelsea botanical garden) was removed.”
The Ethics Commission discussed the two complaints in executive session during a video conference May 11 and voted to find no probable cause to investigate. The complaints will not be made public.
Related issues were discussed in the open session of the meeting, because former Alderman and committee member Samuel Browning had asked for two advisory opinions in conjunction with the complaints.
Browning, an attorney, said later he was representing five individual Mohegan Park committee members in his Ethics Commission advisory opinion request on whether a person could file an ethics complaint against a city agency as opposed to an individual.
After a discussion, the Ethics Commission voted unanimously that the city ethics code applies to actions of individual people for behavior in relation to their positions, rather than actions taken by city agencies.
“If the person has a policy complaint, is that an appropriate ethics complaint?” Ethics Commission Chairman Scott Camassar asked during the discussion. “If someone says, ‘I don’t like what they’re doing,’ is that properly subject to an ethics complaint?”
Browning, who is no longer on the committee but is considering applying for a vacant seat, also asked if he would be allowed to purchase a disc golf course sponsorship. In his written request, Browning argued that since sponsorships were open to anyone, it should not be a conflict of interest or a privileged opportunity for him to purchase a sponsorship.
The commission voted unanimously that since sponsorships were open to the public, and committee members were not given preferential treatment, committee members could purchase sponsorships.
Disc golf course committee chairman Kyle Seitz said the committee has raised $8,900, including 19 sponsorships and has a $2,000 sponsorship pledge from another donor. The funds are held by the city comptroller’s office. The project is “on the cusp of the purchase and development phase,” Seitz said. The committee has begun seeking quotes for materials, including baskets, lumber for small hole signage and tee off areas and tee off pads.
But in the COVID-19 emergency, Seitz said the committee has not met to discuss and approve purchases.
“Optimistically, I hope we can start work on the course this summer,” Seitz said.
Beryl Fishbone, chairwoman of the Mohegan Parks Improvements and Development Advisory Committee, said she told the Ethics Commission in her written response to the complaint the disc golf course would have free admission and free parking. All sponsorship signs would be the same size.
“As far as impartiality,” Fishbone said, “we’re willing to take money from anyone who will give it to us.”