By MIKE DONOGHUE
The Shelburne Ethics Committee has not scheduled hearings on either of the two pending cases before it, as of Tuesday morning.
The committee, which was scheduled to have its regular monthly meeting this week, bumped the session to Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. in the town offices.
Chairman Lee Suskin said one agenda item is a request from Town Manager Joe Colangelo to various town boards for any possible budget needs for the coming fiscal year. Suskin said he expects the ethics committee will discuss at the meeting what it might need in the way of funding.
The ethics committee has asked multiple times over the past year to have access to up to $2,500 to seek outside legal counsel without having to get approval from the town manager or the selectboard, who might be involved in a complaint. The committee has fielded three recent complaints and two involved Dr. Colleen Parker, a member of the selectboard; the third complaint was determined to be unfounded and remains confidential but was believed to involve the town manager.
The selectboard has rejected the funding requests saying it was up to the manager to approve spending.
During a recent ethics dommittee meeting, members also mentioned that they also might need other professional services, including an independent investigator or an auditor, if a complaint involved financial questions.
The agenda for the next meeting was still being assembled at presstime for the Shelburne news.
There are some requests or motions before the ethics committee regarding the two pending cases, but due to schedule conflicts some members have been unable to find a good time to meet, Vice Chairman Thomas Little told the Shelburne News on Tuesday.
The committee may have meet to consider those requests before scheduling the two hearings, said Little, who is the acting chair for the two complaints because Suskin recused himself.
In a letter filed Friday, Dr. Parker’s lawyer is claiming the complaint against her should be dismissed on multiple grounds. The letter claims that at least two members of the ethics committee had clear conflicts of interest when the committee found probable cause against Parker for comments she made about Volunteer Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet.
Attorney Michael J. Regan declined to name the members with the conflicts of interest. He said some members had “actively campaigned” in favor of the candidate running against Parker in the last election.
“They should be recusing themselves. They know who they are,” Regan said in a phone interview. In his letter, Regan also said probable cause should be reconsidered.
Regan said the complaint also should be dismissed on grounds that Parker was doing her job as a selectboard member. He said Parker asked the fire chief questions that she was authorized under state law for a person serving on the selectboard.
Ouimet filed the initial complaint against Parker for comments she made during a Sept. 26 meeting. Ouimet said he believes Parker accused him of being bought off by the Vermont Railway in the legal dispute with the town of Shelburne.
Parker denied the claim and filed a cross complaint saying she had been defamed by Ouimet’s public complaint.
Ouimet has called Parker’s complaint baseless. In addition, Ouimet’s lawyer, Pietro Lynn, and Town Manager Joe Colangelo maintain that Ouimet isn’t even covered by the town ethics ordinance.
In one sign of possible progress, Regan confirmed that efforts are underway to try to resolve the two cases without going to a hearing. He said he has reached out to Ouimet’s lawyer and to the ethics committee in an effort to come to a “peaceful resolution for this matter.”
Regan said he has not received any response so far.
Temporary committee wraps up
A third recent ethics complaint prompted the ethics committee to step aside and request a temporary replacement committee to review it. That committee was seated and reviewed the complaint which never became public because no probable cause was found to bring its review any further. The temporary committee met briefly last week to approve its meeting minutes, affirming there were no grounds for the third complaint. It then voted to disband.