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New London Ethics Committee discusses next step after chairman resigns

New London ― The city’s ethics council met on Wednesday evening to discuss how to handle an investigation that ultimately led to its 10-year-old chairman resigning about three weeks ago.

Former President and Republican K. Robert Lewis resigned Oct. 24 because he said the board was being barred from considering a complaint. Current and former members of the city council were listed as respondents to the complaint filed in February, but most either did not respond or did not come to council for an interview.

The seven-member Ethics Committee, guided by the city’s code of ethics, reviews complaints and may choose to investigate by conducting interviews and determining if there is “probable cause” for a violation. The board can hold a hearing or mediate between the parties.

The office is appointed by the city council.

In the February complaint, former parks and recreation commissioner Michael Hudson alleged members of city council violated the code of conduct when he was not reappointed to the commission last year. Hudson died in October.

His complaint listed councilors Efraín Dominguez, Alma D. Nartatez, Kevin Booker Jr., James Burke, Reona Dyess, Curtis Goodwin and John Satti as respondents.

Dyess and Satti participated in interviews, according to a schedule of the ethics committee complaint and signed by Lewis.

Based on the information it gathered, the ethics committee said it had found probable cause to move forward with Hudson’s complaint and planned to hold a public hearing, but it did not. never got to this point.

About a week after Lewis resigned, council member Dennis Downing also resigned.

On Wednesday, the four remaining council members were Republican Karen Paul and Democrats Robert DeRobbio, Judith Kierys and Sara Chaney. There are now three vacancies on the board with open positions for one Democrat and two Republicans or unaffiliated voters.

The board moved to dismiss Hudson’s complaint without prejudice. DeRobbio said the reasoning was due to Hudson’s untimely death and his inability to defend himself in a hearing.

The council also elected new officers. DeRobbio, who joined three months ago and refrained from making a decision on the complaint, was named chairman. Kierys nominated Paul as vice president because she is the only Republican and personally wanted to see both parties represented.

The council agreed to invite Mayor Michael Passero to a meeting in the coming weeks to show that he has “reformed and is ready to serve the public again” as well as to talk about any issues that the mayor could have with the council or with him, says De Robbio.

DeRobbio said the other council members gave more than a year of their time to Hudson’s complaint and that the city’s chief legal officer, Jeffrey Londregan, said any action taken by the council was considered void.

On August 16, Londonregan sent an opinion to the council and to Lewis on the legal validity of the proceedings now and in the future. In the letter, Londregan said that “the ethics board’s determination to find probable cause for breaches of the code of ethics is legally null and void.”

He says the former advisers — Goodwin, Booker Jr. and Nartartez — were never properly served or informed of any ethics complaints filed against them. He added that the plaintiff (Hudson) had “no property or legal right to be reappointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission upon the expiration of his term.”

DeRobbio said the board wanted the three advisers to state what they knew or didn’t know about Hudson’s reappointment. He said it was possible that after questioning councilors, the council found no probable cause.

“But not even talking to the ethics committee is like a slap in the face,” DeRobbio said.

Kierys said all of the members had at some point considered leaving the board. She said she “felt bad about what happened and the way we were treated, fired by the (counselors)”.

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