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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wallingford ethics panel clarifies councilors’ participation in votes

As published in the Record Journal Thursday April 26, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — The Board of Ethics ruled unanimously Wednesday night that two of three town councilors with various ties to town funded agencies could vote on those organizations’ individual budgets during budget workshops.

The board decided that Republican Councilor John Le-Tourneau and Council Chairman Robert Parisi could vote on budgets for organizations while they are on that organization’s board of directors because they do not receive any personal financial gain from the agencies. The board ruled that Republican Councilor Rosemary Rascati needs to recuse herself in decisions on the budget for an organization that employs her daughter.

The ruling was initiated by the three councilors, who sent letters to the board asking for a review of their affiliations in regard to the town’s code of ethics.

“We wanted to get a definitive answer,” LeTourneau said. He and Rascati were both in attendance. In years past, the councilors have recused themselves from certain votes presuming there could be a conflict of interest, but in talking decided that they should get a judgment from the board.

LeTourneau is on Wallingford Center Inc.’s Board of Directors and said he did not vote on the organization’s budget when it was work shopped last year.

“It troubled me for the whole year, whether I did the right thing by recusing,” LeTourneau said.

From now on, he should feel free to vote on that budget, according to the ethics board, as neither he nor family members receive financial gain from it. The same goes for Parisi, who is on the board of directors of the Spanish Community of Wallingford and the Wallingford Girls’ Softball League. The board asked the two to clearly state their roles with the organizations in budget workshop discussions on them.

Two members of the public, Robert and Debbie Gross, questioned this decision, saying that it seems like a conflict of interest for LeTourneau to help create the Wallingford Center Inc. budget as a director and then turn around and approve it as a town councilor. “Conflict of interest isn’t just dollars, it’s perception of the public on a particular item,” Robert Gross said. “I think there should be an arm’s length.”

Dean Warburton, chairman of the Board of Ethics, said that having LeTourneau state his involvement during a hearing would be transparent enough.

“I think for you to say openly ‘I am a member of the Board of Directors of Wallingford Center Inc.’ — that should clear any concerns,” Warburton said.

Rascati must recuse herself from voting on the individual budget of Wallingford Center Inc. during workshops, the board said, because her daughter, Elizabeth Landow, is the executive director. The town prohibits town councilors from voting on matters that have any possible financial benefit for a relative, and Landow’s salary is part of the town allocation.

Rascati, also a board member of the organization, said she abstained from voting on it last year.

Though it wasn’t part of the ruling, LeTourneau said he continues to abstain from votes on personnel decisions for the Electric Division because his wife works there, he said. Rascati can vote on the town budget in May, even though it would contain Wallingford Center’s budget.

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