Today, RTM district 9 member John McCarthy sent this letter to the Board of Finance:
The recommendation of the Baron’s South Committee to negotiate a lease with the Rose Group for the development of Baron’s South brings up serious issues of ethics which I believe need to be addressed before you take any additional steps.
As the facts clearly show, a consultant who actively worked for the town to shape the zoning and limit the future use of Baron’s South is a member of the Rose Group’s winning proposal for use of Baron’s South. I believe that this type of behavior clearly violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the State of Connecticut Ethics codes, specifically the code’s discussion of “Side Switching”:
“A former state official or employee may never represent anyone other than the state regarding a particular matter in which he or she was personally or substantially involved while in state service and in which the state has a substantial interest. This prevents side-switching. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-84b (a).” Page 8 under Lifetime Ban
I acknowledge that this state statute does not apply to Westport. But applying this concept, which seems to me to be a bedrock principle of government ethics, to Westport and its officials, employees and consultants, I believe that the Baron’s South Committee should not have considered the Rose Group proposal without first publicly disclosing that there was potential conflict of interest, and getting and publicizing an opinion from an independent ethics committee.
A few questions which could have been addressed by such an independent ethics committee include:
- Could the participation of this Consultant as a member of the Rose Group team have deterred other potential bidders from submitting a proposal? Was this a reason why only 3 bids were received from the 30 bid packages requested?
- Was the Consultant chosen by the Rose Group because of benefits it expected to derive from the Consultant’s material involvement in setting the explicit direction for the development of Baron’s South?
- Was the Consultant chosen by the Rose Group because of benefits it expected to derive from the Consultant’s ongoing relationship with members of town government and member’s of the Baron’s South Committee?
- What ongoing activities does this Consultant have with the Town of Westport and should they have been publicly disclosed by the Baron’s South Committee? (Note that this Consultant has been publicly identified as being a Consultant to the Westport Housing Authority for an unrelated project as recently as last month.)
- Could the participation of this Consultant as a member of the Rose Group proposal been expected to create the appearance of a conflict of interest which could harm the public’s perception of the fairness of the bidding process?
As a body, should you continue to discuss and consider the Rose Group bid, I believe you will be sending the deliberate message that this is acceptable ethical behavior for dealings with the Town of Westport. As a citizen and elected member of the RTM I believe that this message will not be well received by the citizens of Westport, and will have a very negative impact on the overall level of trust people have in our town’s governmental process.
In order to maintain the public’s trust, I believe you should tell the Baron’s South Committee that you will not discuss any proposal for Baron’s South at this time.
I would personally like to see any future discussion and process related to the use of Baron’s South be done through a special committee made up of the 1st Selectman and elected members of the BOF, P&Z and RTM. But this should be addressed at a later date.