WALLINGFORD — The ethics complaint filed by one member of the Town Council against another member is moving forward, with a hearing set for October.
On Oct. 17, the town Board of Ethics will hear the complaint Councilor Craig Fishbein filed against Councilor Jason Zandri alleging a conflict of interest over the approval of an ARPA grant.
The complaint concerns a $180,000 ARPA grant awarded to the Wallingford Grange. The ARPA Selection Committee, of which Fishbein was a member, declined to recommend the grant to the Town Council for approval, but later the council changed the formula the committee used to determine eligibility so that more applications would be approved, including the Grange application.
After the committee declined to recommend the Grange application, Zandri asked that an item be placed on the next council agenda to discuss it. At that time, Zandri was a member and officer of the Grange, and the Law Office advised Zandri that would be a conflict of interest. Zandri then pulled the request, and a short time later resigned from the Grange altogether.
It was then that the council, concerned about the number of small businesses and nonprofits whose applications were declined by the committee, chose to change the formula used to determine eligibility. That led to the awarding of more ARPA grants, including to the Grange.
Fishbein later filed the complaint against Zandri, alleging that Zandri used his position on the council to try to override the committee’s decision and had previously not disclosed his affiliation with the Grange. He said he filed the ethics complaint because he feels the incident went unaddressed.
This week the Board of Ethics met to set the guidelines under which the complaint will be addressed, and the Oct. 17 date of the hearing.
“The fact that the Board of Ethics concluded their investigation with a finding of probable cause that an ethics violation has occurred is a hopeful sign that there may still be a Code of Ethics in the town of Wallingford,” Fishbein said. “Our procedures permit any town employee to petition the Board peremptorily, for its opinion prior to an action being taken by that town employee. In those cases, inquiry is a series of what if’s and who for’s. However here, that pre-action guidance was not sought, and we are faced with actual action and consequence. That is unfortunate.”
Zandri said the complaint doesn’t specify what he did to breach the Code of Ethics, but that he expects more “grandstanding” before it is resolved.
“I think it went the way I expected. It was just a procedural meeting and there was really little else to it,” Zandri said. “There has still been no real indication of exactly what actions I supposedly took to breach the ethics rules and Fishbein still has that burden to prove. I am expecting further fantastic grandstanding on that like in his last comments to the (Record-Journal).”
Fishbein said ARPA guidelines required the town to have a policy on conflicts of interest just for this reason.
“There are reasons for why the federal government required the town of Wallingford to have a conflict of interest policy for it to receive and administer federal ARPA funds,” Fishbein said. “Ultimately, it is imperative that the public (and here the federal government) have faith that local elected and appointed officials are acting for their constituency … not their own private interests.
“The process is the process, but nonetheless, I believe that the Board of Ethics should, after reviewing the entirety of the evidence, move to the next step and rule that no employee or appointee of the town should ever engage in the course of conduct presented in the complaint,” he said.