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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    Stonington forms ethics commission to investigate complaints for the first time

    Stonington ― For the first time in its 25-year existence, the town’s ethics ordinance will be put to the test.

    Information posted to the town website has stated that two similar complaints alleging violations of the town’s ethics ordinance have been filed with the town attorney, which then determined the complaints warranted a commission to investigate the matter.

    According to Attorney Brian Estep of the town’s law firm Conway, Londregan, Sheehan & Monoco of New London, all details of ethics complaints are confidential under state law.

    Estep was able to confirm that the complaints were made directly to the law firm, and First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough is aware of general details including the subject of the allegations.

    Nonetheless, Estep cautioned that under the town ordinance and state law, none of the parties involved, including the complainants or the person named in the complaint can discuss the allegations.

    He cautioned that if anyone involved were to discuss the matter, the complaint would have to be discarded, and any investigations would cease.

    Estep declined to say when the firm had received the complaints, explaining that any indication of a timeline could provide insight into what they allege.

    He noted that once the firm determined the issue required an investigation under the town’s ordinance, the subject of the complaint was notified of the allegations and the Chesebrough was notified a commission was required.

    He explained that the commission’s investigation is confidential and must be completed within 90 days after it begins.

    All the information supplied to or received by the commission during the investigation will remain confidential, as specified by state law, unless the commission finds there is a probable cause for a hearing, or the target of the complaint requests the entire record and any hearings be open to the public.

    The Board of Selectmen must appoint five members and three alternates to the commission. As of last Friday, the town had received five applications.

    To be eligible, individuals must be voters in the town, may not hold or campaign for public office, be employed by or a party to any contracts with the town or hold office for a political party.

    Additionally, no more than three of the regular members can have the same political party affiliation, among a number of other requirements.

    According to the website, applications will be accepted through June 28, and interviews will begin at the July 10 Board of Selectmen meeting.

    Last week, Chesebrough said she believed it was the first time a complaint had required the formation of a commission since the ordinance was passed in early 1999.

    Chesebrough, when asked how the public could be certain that the individuals appointing the members were not also subjects of the complaints, said she had discussed the issue with the town attorney and had been advised that she could not address the matter.

    “The issue with our ordinance has come to light now, and it is something we can certainly look at,” she said, adding that the potential conflict may require a revision of the ordinance.

    When asked the same question, Estep declined to answer, saying he would not “answer that type of hypothetical.”

    “People have to trust the process for now,” Chesebrough said.

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