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Author: Don Obrien

Code of Ethics, funds for financial software approved at North Stonington Town Meeting | North Stonington


NORTH STONINGTON — Residents have approved a revised Code of Ethics specific to financial interests that will serve to guide for all officials, officers and employees and green-lit the purchase of new financial software that town and school officials said would increase efficiency and transparency across town government.

The motions were among four approved Tuesday night during a special town meeting held at the North Stonington Education Center. The meeting drew 24 participants to vote and all measures passed by at least a 3-1 margin. Two questions regarding use of Local Capital Improvement Plan state grant funds on road projects and approval of five-year plans in accordance with annual state requirements both passed by a 23-1 vote.

The Code of Ethics proved the most controversial topic of the evening, passing 18-6 but not without residents expressing concerns regarding how the policy would be implemented, whether it could lead to additional costs and how an Ethics Commission that would be formed in accordance with the policy would operate.

“This affects all board and commission members, yet through this process no boards or commissions were allowed to review or comment on it. It is disrespectful to the volunteers who serve on these boards and commissions,” said Shawn Murphy, a former first selectman for the town.

“This is doomed to be a political nightmare, with a commission that is biased based on the majority party of the Board of Selectmen. We need a policy, but not another commission here in town,” he continued.

The Code of Ethics, which was made public last Thursday, was developed by the Board of Selectmen with Bob Carlson, who is running unopposed and will take over as first selectman following the November election, working alongside the Town Administration and Finance Officer Christine Dias and the town’s labor attorney to help write the code over the past year.

Under the provisions, Carlson and First Selectman Michael Urgo each said the code provides a more robust set of guidelines and procedures that will serve to help protect the interests of the town and its residents, specifically as it relates to the financial interests of the town and related behavior of officials or employees. Potential violations identified as legitimate, as determined by investigation and review of labor attorneys, would then go before an Ethics Commission that will need to be appointed.

Carlson said the purpose of the board serves to create an impartial commission that would be able to review legitimate complaints and determine violations. Any violations would fall into the same disciplinary guidelines agreed upon in labor contracts. Those appointed and serving on the commission cannot serve on any other boards or commissions in North Stonington.

“We looked at five surrounding towns and all five had a Code of Ethics and all seemed to be about the same. We took the best parts of each, rather than picking one to just replicate, to form something that would be beneficial for our community,” Carlson said. “All the towns that had (a code) also had commissions, though not all were done the same way.”

Resident Joe Gross noted that the town had attempted a similar effort years ago under guidance of then-First Selectman Nick Mullane but were unable to find enough people not already serving on boards to come forward. The inability to fill the seats ultimately led to the commission being abandoned.

Urgo said although that will be a challenge, there are thousands of potential volunteers in town and officials would need to work to help get the word out. He said he believes some would be more willing to serve knowing the commission would meet only once to a few times per year, and is not tied to any other political boards.

He said the town was also in dire need of revamping its policy.

“The town had a code of ethics, but it was a one-page document and not very robust code. Over the past year, we wanted to put something together with a little more teeth, a code we wanted staff, elected officials and anyone who works for the town to live by.”

Financial software

Tuesday’s meeting also led to the approval of $60,325 for financial software as recommended by the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen to bring the town and Board of Education together under one system. The software is already used by the school district.

Nicholas Haas, a software consultant with Infinite Visions, said the program will bring all departments together, creating more efficiency in operations and transparency in government finances. With the new system, the Board of Education and Board of Finance would be able to share appropriate information easily in order to keep everyone on the same page.

The initiative was brought up as a special appropriation in the spring for purchase during the 2020-21 fiscal year and again during tough budget discussions for the current fiscal year, but was rejected each time. With the process this spring leading to the elimination of money for Open Gov, the system town staff had been using before, the software became exponentially necessary to avoid a struggle during the upcoming budget process.

The purchase received unanimous support from those who spoke, eventually passing 22-2, and will be implemented in the coming months.



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