Ethics Committee tosses complaint after review

The Shelburne Ethics Committee has agreed there was inadequate information to move forward on the latest complaint about a town official.

The members voted 4-0 last Wednesday night that the written complaint filed on Jan. 11 failed to note a specific violation that the Shelburne ethics ordinance covers.

The committee reviews complaints in private and only reveals details if the panel decides the complaint has merit and will be scheduled for a public hearing. Otherwise, cases remain confidential. This latest complaint will fall into that category.
The committee last week went into closed session to consider the complaint by an unidentified resident. About halfway through the meeting, two members – Chair Lee

Suskin and alternate Pete Gadue – left the session. Suskin said both had recused themselves, but did not elaborate why. That left four members to complete the preliminary investigation.

Suskin told the committee that Town Manager Joe Colangelo had authorized up to three hours of legal consultation for the complaint if needed.

Also at that meeting but in public session, the committee fielded a written request from Colangelo asking the panel withdraw its $10,000 request for next year’s town budget to provide legal and investigative support in handling complaints.

“I think it’s unnecessary for the EC to have its own line-item in the budget,” Colangelo said in a Jan. 15 email to Suskin.

The Ethics Committee agreed it would consider withdrawing the one-time $10,000 request for the 2018-19 budget with the understanding it would instead ask Colangelo to agree to authorize the committee to spend up to $2,500 per case. The committee would use the money to seek outside help in its work to determine probable cause and then to hear and resolve complaints that move forward, the committee said.

The Ethics Committee has been seeking funding for about one year from the town. The committee has said it sometimes needs to consult with outside legal counsel in doing its work. It also may like to have access to a trained investigator or an auditor for certain types of complaints.

Colangelo and a majority of the selectboard have balked at providing the committee funds until recently. For example, selectboard Chairman Gary von Stange last fall rejected a $2,500 check offered by a member of the public to be used for the Ethics Committee’s work; von Stange later agreed to accept the money as a donation to the town library reconstruction project instead.

Residents attending recent selectboard meetings have urged town officials to fund the Ethics Committee so it may follow its mission.

Colangelo wrote in his email last week he thinks most of the issues over the funding have been resolved.

“I do believe that conversation about the budget figure is a distraction right now and of less importance relative to conversation about the ordinance itself and possible improvements,” Colangelo wrote.

Both the Ethics Committee and the selectboard have discussed reviewing the ethics ordinance and the committee’s methods to address areas that may need updating.

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