Board of Ethics chairman: Few complaints for town employees, advisory opinions available

The town Board of Ethics doesn’t get many complaints — two, three, four a year — but its advisory function may be an underutilized resource for town officials and employees unsure of the right thing to do.

“I think people on the boards in this town have been pretty good about knowing when to recuse themselves,” Board of Ethics Chairman Bart Van de Weghe told the selectmen before they voted 4-to-0 to reappoint him to another four-year term.

The ethics board exists to hear complaints about town elected officials — and also employees.

“Do you get a fair number of complaints?” ask Selectwoman Barbara Manners.

“No,” Van de Weghe said. “Very rare with employees. It’s usually an appointed or elected official.”

Asked about the total number of complaints the Board of Ethics gets, Van de Weghe said it varies, but the average is quite small.

“Not 15,” he said. “...Two to four per year. There’ve been years there’s been nothing that’s come in, and there’ve been years four or five come in.”

Even less common are requests for advisory opinions, which he said some officials have found quite helpful.

“You do serve in an advisory capacity,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi — who said he had twice sought the ethics board’s advice on a sensitive matter.

Van de Weghe said the board’s advisory opinions may help officials conclude they shouldn’t participate in a given discussion or vote — but they may also give an unsure official the confidence to go ahead and take part, despite the critics.

“They should not feel like they’re being pressured to not participate in what they’ve been elected to do,” Van De Weghe said.

“Having the Board of Ethics’ view, I think, helps in terms of vetting that in an objective way.”

Van de Weghe spoke to the Board of Selectmen Nov. 28.