The Board of Ethics held a meeting Thursday December 3, 2009 in the Alexandria Room of the Edmond Town Hall. Chairman Peter Vanbuskirk called the meeting to order at 7:30p.m.
Chairman Peter Vanbuskirk, Vice Chairman Brian Ochs, Neal DeYoung, Mark Streck, Ronald Wilcox, Sara Frampton, Suzanne Copp.
Diane Guilfoil of 3 Pomperaug Road Sandy Hook, CT. 06482 and Jackie Zvon of 4 Rocky Wood Drive Sandy Hook, CT. 06482.
Diane Guilfoil, town resident who submitted letter of complaint.
Ms. Guilfoil addressed the Board regarding the Code of Ethics she felt were in violation as Code 36-2b and 36-4b. Ms. Guilfoil thanked the Board for allowing her to be present.
Ms. Jackie Zvon addressed the Board stating that she too has been subject to harassment from Debbie Aurelia including crass and vulgar behavior. Ms. Zvon stated that in being a Town Official she should be held to a high standard or conduct and Ms. Aurelia has displayed the exact opposite.
Mr. Vanbuskirk addressed the Board stating that the Board of Ethics is a group that is entrusted by the Town to make rulings relative to the Code of Ethics. The Board has two major functions, to act when an official letter of complaint is received and to provide an advisory opinion to the Board of Selectmen thus interpreting the Code of Ethics.
Mr. Vanbuskirk also stated that a schedule of meeting dates needs to be made for the first Thursday of even months at 7:30p.m.
Ms. Frampton moved that a schedule of dates for the New Year be made and distributed to the Board. Mr. DeYoung seconded motion. All were in favor.
Mr. Vanbuskirk then addressed the Board regarding Ethics Code 36-5 regarding Conflicts of Interest where any Board member should recuse themselves from the meeting and any future meetings if they feel as though they know any party involved in the case being discussed and can not be impartial in the decision making process.
Ms. Copp stated (to disclose to the Board the full truth) that she lives in the same development as Ms. Debbie Aurelia and is friendly with her however she does believe that she can be impartial in the decision making process.
Ms. Frampton also stated that although she happened to run against Ms. Aurelia in the recent Election for Town Clerk and is also friendly with her and all parties involved she believes as well that she can be impartial in decision making.
The Board moved on to discuss what Ethics Codes had been violated if any.
Mr. Ochs moved to open discussion. Ms. Frampton seconded. All were in favor.
The Board discussed three potential Ethics Code violations being; 36-2a, 36-2b under Standards of Service and 36-4b under Treatment of Public (See attachment A and B copies of the pertaining Ethics Codes).
Ms. Frampton questioned if 36-5b might be considered only if it were to be taken negatively. After discussion, the Board agreed that although they understood Ms. Frampton’s position they felt as though the wording of the Code was not exactly descriptive of the behavior displayed.
Mr. Ochs stated that based on the letter of complaint received and the Codes being discussed a full hearing would be warranted.
Mr. DeYoung questioned the Board, in this circumstance what would a full hearing give the Board.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that a full hearing would essentially give the complainant a chance to be heard and if after this initial meeting there is still questions needing answers and more information needed.
Mr. Ochs added that also the Board would be giving the Board of Selectmen recommendation on how to move forward and nothing has to be finalized tonight.
Mr. DeYoung stated that Ethics Code 36-4b seems to be more specific in the behavior aspect relative to a personal issue in this case.
Mr. Ochs responded that if Ms. Aurelia delayed in any way the issuance of the Marriage License in the Clerks Office (when the Assistant Town Clerks are perfectly capable to issue a License without her) then there would be need to keep the Treatment of Public and Standards of Service Ethics Codes in for discussion.
Ms. Frampton stated that Ms. Guilfoil and Ms. Carney were in the Clerk’s Office to conduct Town Clerk business and were not just on Town property where they happened to run into Ms. Aurelia.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated regarding standards of service, when dining in a restaurant where the spectrum of service directly relates to overall experience, this is not much different where the public comes into a Town Office and expects to be treated with a certain level of respect and expects a high standard of service.
Mr. Wilcox stated that he believed Ethics Code 36-2a does not apply as acting morally and honestly was not in question.
Mr. Ochs stated that 36-2a may not have been violated, however, if Ms. Aurelia told her Assistant Town Clerk’s specifically not to issue the Marriage License and to wait for her, then there may be a violation issue.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that at this point the Board has Ethics Codes (from weakest to strongest violation possibility) 36-2a, 36-2b, 36-4b.
Ms. Copp questioned what the Town Clerk’s duties are.
Mr. DeYoung stated that regarding 36-2a, challenging someone’s honesty is not the job of the Board.
Ms. Copp stated that she understands the point being made however, until the job description is received and reviewed.
Mr. Streck stated that 36-2a should not be eliminated completely at first.
Ms. Frampton was in agreement.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that the Ethics Coded that will be focused on will be 36-2b and 36-4b but will potentially consider 36-2a upon further information received.
Mr. Wilcox moved to accept Ethics Codes 36-2b, 36-4b and to potentially consider 36-2a. Mr. Streck seconded motion. All were in favor.
Mr. Ochs stated that it is in his opinion as a Board member that there is a need for a full hearing because in the absence of hearing the other side one would conclude that there has been a violation.
Mr. DeYoung also stated that there is enough to have a hearing.
Mr. Vanbuskirk read a statement from Ms. Aurelia essentially defending her actions and that the duties of the Clerk were fulfilled and the actions were between two people and a personal matter.
Ms. Copp questioned if there was anything stated or sworn under oath regarding conducting personal business on town time and or within Town service guidelines.
Mr. Ochs stated that in administering the Code of Ethics the question needs to be asked if an area of the code was violated whether on Town time or off town time [as an official of the Town should conduct his or herself in a respectful manner anytime time as they are still representatives of the Town.]
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that at this point the Board should come to a decision on if a full hearing is necessary to investigate complaint.
Mr. Ochs moved that a full hearing would be necessary to further investigate complaint received. Mr. Streck seconded motion. All were in favor.
Mr. Vanbuskirk questioned the Board on what areas should be investigated.
Ms. Frampton stated that the Assistant Town Clerks should be invited to the hearing as they were there.
Mr. Ochs stated that the Town regulations on issuing a Marriage License would pertain to the hearing.
Ms. Copp questioned if the Board will be focusing on this incident alone or if other instances of looking at Ms. Aurelia’s character will be valid so as to determine if this particular matter was out of character or if is something that has happened before.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that it can get a little murky to get involved in other character incidents and in a way the letter itself is back-round enough.
Mr. Wilcox also stated that he wasn’t sure if it really matters that there may or may not have been an issue in the past 3 or 4 years, what the Board is ruling on is this incident only.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that the Board will have two issues to focus on; To understand the responsibilities of the Town Clerk and to determine what happened.
Also people that will be invited will be;
Assistant Town Clerk, Monica Duhancik
Assistant Town Clerk, Ann Benore
Ms. Angelina Carney
Ms. Debbie Aurelia
Ms. Diane Guilfoil
First Selectman (at the time of the incident) Mr. Joesph Borst
Mr. Wilcox stated if the camera footage is available to validate date and time also to substantiate claims it may be helpful to see before the hearing.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated the two areas to be looked into are the delay in providing service and the incident outside the office.
Mr. DeYoung stated that the Chairman or Vice Chairman might consider having questions submitted to one person to then ask those being asked to participate instead of the questions being asked from all directions.
Ms. Frampton stated that she felt as though an open forum would be better as she would not want any questions screened and therefore potentially not asked that would have been very informational.
Mr. Ochs added that he likes the idea of having one main person asking the questions but feels it would be important for each Board member to have a chance to cross examine each invitee.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that the Board should agree on a set of foundation questions to be asked by the Chairman and the Board members may also ask their own additional questions should anything be left unanswered.
Mr. Ochs stated for the Board’s discussion if Public Participation would be allowed at the hearing, it was his opinion that public participation should not be part of the hearing.
Mr. Vanbuskirk was in agreement that public participation at the hearing would not be necessary.
Mr. Vanbuskirk added that prior to the meeting the Board should get an expression from Debbie on whom she may intend on bringing or who she’d like the Board to invite on her behalf.
Mr. Vanbuskirk summarized the order of events for the hearing as follows;
- Summarize the order of the meeting for those who are present.
- No Public Participation
- Chairman will confirm that Ms. Aurelia had received a copy of the complaint and that it is understood that the Board is an advisory Board to the First Selectmen.
- The sequence of interviews (the Chairman will ask foundation questions to be followed by Board members).
- Ms. Aurelia will have the opportunity to cross examine
- Ms. Aurelia will have the opportunity to present any evidence on her behalf
- Finally, Board deliberations
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that due to the Holidays the hearing will probably be scheduled for January 2010.
After discussion on what dates the Board is available for the hearing, Mr. Ochs moved to schedule the hearing for Thursday January 14, 2010 at 6:30p.m.
Mr. Streck moved to change general meeting schedule on the first Thursdays of even months to commence at 7:00p.m. rather than 7:30p.m. Mr. DeYoung seconded motion. All were in favor.
Mr. Vanbuskirk stated that it would be his recommendation that Vice Chairman Brian Ochs handle the hearing foundation questions as he will more than likely be the acting Chair.
Mr. Ochs stated that the preliminary questions will be circulated and a first draft will be emailed by December 13, 2009 and a final draft by January 3, 2010.
Mr. Ochs will get letters of request to all those invited, a copy of the Town Clerk’s duties and possibly a copy of the video tape.
The Board also agreed on a regular meeting for January 7, 2010 at 7:00p.m. as an Election of Officers meeting and to finalize and discuss details for the hearing January 14, 2010.
Having no further business, Mr. DeYoung moved to adjourn the regular meeting of The Board of Ethics. Mr. Ochs seconded. All were in favor.
Cayenne Spremullo, Clerk