A View from Glen Hill: Ethical behavior works both ways

In my last column, I commended our town officials and employees for their handling of the many challenges presented by Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. I can now add to that commendation congratulations on a just-announced impressive honor: Our school superintendent, Dr. Gary Richards, has just been awarded our state’s superintendent-of-the-year award!

With those thoughts in mind, I recently reread a guest column that appeared in this newspaper a month ago, right before Sandy hit, that contains multiple accusations and criticisms. It appeared under the name of an “independent Wilton citizens group” calling itself by the acronym TASC (“Toward a Stronger Community”). The accusation that most caught my attention appeared following a witty introduction about scary Halloween things. The column used that opening to lead into the following statement:

“But here’s another group of items that should scare all of us in Wilton, right now, and in the future. This list contains a few of them often found throughout Fairfield County, and beyond. Ponder them carefully. 1.) Cases of fraudulent appropriations and expenditures by townwide departments and operations; no control systems to identify or deter; no independent audits or examinations.”

While the introduction to this list of 11 numbered concerns about things relating to local government is framed so as not to make assertions specifically about Wilton (i.e., “often found throughout Fairfield County, and beyond”), none of these assertions, including this first one, is specifically stated not to apply to Wilton. By failing explicitly to exclude Wilton, TASC does a grave disservice to those who serve us faithfully here in town government, unless it has substance to back up its failure explicitly to exclude Wilton’s officials and employees from serious charges of “fraudulent appropriations and expenditures by townwide departments and operations.”

Well-informed Wilton citizens know that our town has a Code of Ethics and a Council on Ethics to enforce it. That code, one of the first in our state, has been in place for a half-century and was significantly updated five years ago. In a dozen pages, it lays out standards for conduct, especially those pertaining to conflicts of interest and to misappropriation of town property including town funds (see p. 4). The code includes a procedure (Section E, p. 10) for the filing of a complaint concerning alleged violations of the code and even a sample form for doing so. A copy of the code, furnished to everyone in town government, is available in town hall to anyone who requests it.

If TASC is aware of any actual “cases of fraudulent appropriations and expenditures by townwide departments and operations” involving Wilton, its members should use this straightforward complaint process to raise them. If, on the other hand, they are not aware of any situations involving Wilton, they should do our very effective and hard-working town officials and employees the courtesy of clarifying that they did not mean their accusations to relate to Wilton.

As to other references in this charge #1 to “no control systems to identify or deter [‘fraudulent appropriations and expenditures’]” and “no independent audits or examinations,” Wilton uses both intensive internal control systems and independent audits.

In fact, independent audits of our town’s financials are required under both state law and the bond indentures for our town’s financing — with our town enjoying the highest bond rating of any municipality nationwide. The State Department of Education also requires auditing of our school district’s financials. It’s surprising that TASC would be unaware of these requirements. If they were aware of them, why wasn’t Wilton explicitly excluded from the scope of these accusations?

While one could go down the entire list of 11 items questioning their applicability to Wilton, another specific one (#8) leaps out as likely similarly baseless as to Wilton. It reads as follows: “8.) Bidding violations and limited quotes that lead to loss, abuse and misuse of resources.” Violations of this sort would presumably occur to advance a personal interest of a town official or employee over our town’s best interests. Such misconduct is covered by the code. If TASC has information pertaining to Wilton respecting this accusation, its members should make use of the complaint procedures under the code to address the matter. If not, another clarification is in order.

In a more upbeat TASC column on Nov. 8, TASC asked us to consider “the ingredients for a stronger, more resilient Wilton.” A good place for TASC to start would be with appropriate clarifications about accusations having no applicability to Wilton.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.