Ethics Board calls for hearing on New London mayor's comment

Editor's note: This version clarifies the number of members on the Board of Ethics.

New London — The Board of Ethics has found there are grounds for a hearing to determine whether Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio violated the City’s Code of Ethics when he called Reid Burdick’s comments about him homophobic.

Burdick, a former City Council member who was replaced by Finizio as the city's emergency management director in 2013, filed the complaint following an April 20 City Council meeting.

A frequent critic of Finizio, Burdick voiced his opposition to a tax increase at the meeting and said, “How do you accept a 12½ percent increase from a guy who doesn’t own a house or a car?” according to excerpts from the meeting.

Burdick went on to say that “wouldn’t it be great if we all had an Uncle Henry?”

Finizio replied to Burdick at the same meeting, saying, “I must say that (Burdick’s) repeated claims in this forum and others, that I do not pay taxes to the City of New London, is homophobic.”

Finizio said no one would make “such an outrageous claim” if he were married to a woman. He said he pays taxes jointly with his husband and the home is under his husband’s name.

“To compare my relationship to my husband and my marital estate to some uncle that I could call is homophobia, and it needs to be called out,” Finizio said at the meeting.

On Tuesday, Finizio stood by his initial comments and said he has fought for two decades for the rights of same-sex marriages and against discrimination based on sexual orientation. He said he considered his response to Burdick part of that same fight.

“I did not call Mr. Burdick personally a homophobe. I said his comments were homophobic because they are,” Finizio said Tuesday. “I’m not going to be bullied. I’m not going to be intimidated and I’m going to stand up for all married couples.”

Burdick, in his complaint, said “public name calling by the Mayor in response to public criticism is petty, unethical, childlike and beneath the office of the mayor.”

“I found it incredibly insensitive and certainly demeaning to the position of Mayor in the City of New London. I can’t live in a city all my life and let something like this go unchecked. And I won’t,” Burdick said Monday.

Burdick said he is not a homophobe and the mayor’s sexual orientation was not a factor in the criticism of his budget or policies. 

He claims Finizio’s comments at the meeting create a risk of impeding free speech at public meetings where citizens might be hesitant to be critical “if they knew it would result in public humiliation.”

Burdick referred all other questions to his attorney, Jason Burdick, who is his son.

"It was a shocking statement to make at a public meeting being broadcast live to the community," Jason Burdick said in a prepared statement. "It was an unwarranted baseless attack solely in response to fair public criticism of policies and the mayor should know that there is no place for this conduct in civil debate."

Reid Burdick had also filed a complaint against Finizio in 2014 alleging four violations of the Code of Ethics and claiming Finizio lied about the reasons he was replaced at his job, released confidential information about him and treated him unfairly.

The board had found no probable cause that Finizio violated any sections of the ethics code.

The Board of Ethics, in confidential proceedings, took up an investigation into Reid Burdick’s latest claims and reviewed the audio of the City Council meeting in question. They also received a rebuttal from Finizio.

On July 1, four members of the board voted unanimously that probable cause existed that Finizio was in violation of three sections of the City’s Code of Ethics regarding policy, standards of conduct and treatment of the public, sections 15-201(b), 15-204 (b) and 15-206.

Members of the committee voting on the probable cause findings were Chairman K. Robert Lewis, Constance Fields, Dennis Downing and David Hersant. Minerva Dudley-Clark was absent. Fields is the lone Democrat among the voting members, the rest of whom are Republicans.

A date for a hearing, which will be open to the public, could come as early as Sept. 14, Lewis said.

The hearing could include testimony and cross examination with a final decision to be made by five members of the Board of Ethics.

The seven-member board has six members with one vacancy, but had been holding meetings with just four because of recent absences by one member prior to a new appointment, according to a letter from Lewis to the City Council in June.

Lewis had urged the council to solicit interested volunteers.

The City Council recently appointed Republican Karen Paul to the board.

Finizio said he would attend the hearing to defend his statements but questioned both the timing of the board’s announcement so close to the election and the makeup of the Board of Ethics.

“It’s questionable because not only are members of the board who voted registered Republicans … some are very vocal supporters of Michael Passero (Finizio’s challenger in the Sept. 16 Democratic primary),” Finizio said.

Finizio singled out Downing as “someone who has been a frequent critic of the administration. He’s clearly a political opponent of mine.”

Downing is running as an endorsed Republican for City Council.

In the event the ethics board determines there was an ethical violation, Lewis referred to the Code of Ethics and applicable Connecticut General Statutes for possible sanctions.

According to the City's Code of Ethics, "the Board may take appropriate disciplinary action, as permitted by law or take no action, or may recommend to the appropriate appointing or managerial authority, a reprimand, reduction in rank or grade, suspension, dismissal or other disciplinary action."

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

[Read The Day's editorial about the ethics complaint here.]

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