February 12, 2009

Ethics probe at housing authority

I've lost count of the meetings the Bristol Housing Authority's Ethics Review Committee has held behind closed doors in the last few weeks to investigate some sort of ethics complaint.
All I've been able to discern is that the sessions are meant to probe an alleged breach of the authority's ethics policy.
On Tuesday, I actually went over to one of the meetings, even though I knew they would simply vote to go into executive, or secret, session. It was slated for 6 p.m.
Nobody showed up. No signs were posted explaining what had happened to the meeting. It simply wasn't.
I've asked around a bit about this thing and come up dry.
If anybody can fill us in on what's happening, even in the most general way, I'd sure like to know. I hate secrets.

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Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's it Steve, recruit some bloggers to do your job for you.

Steve Collins said...

Damn straight.

Anonymous said...

A simple call to Schaffrick will explain it all.

Or will it?

Steve Collins said...

I have a call in to Schaffrick, but it's closed-door stuff so I expect to hear little.
By the way, Schaffrick is no longer chairman. Brian Wolverton is the BHA chairman as of last month. Brian Suchinski remains as vice chairman.

Anonymous said...

Who else is on the Board?

Anonymous said...

Any internal probe like that in a public agency is gonna be closed-door until there's some kind of finding... whatever it is and whoever it's against, it shouldn't matter unless someone really did have a hand in the cookie jar. THEN I wanna hear about it! Til then, it's "innocent until proven guilty" as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

Who's the new guy?

Anonymous said...

Maybe that is why Schaffrick is not chairman anymore...I sure would like to know.

Anonymous said...

February 12, 2009 5:47 PM:

Bingo!

Anonymous said...

Just let them do what they've got to do.

Anonymous said...

To the poster regarding public probes... if there was indeed a "hand in the cookie jar" i.e. malfeasance or stealing, there would be criminal charges, not an ethics probe. Ethics reviews are for more "gray area" stuff like conflict of interest, abuse of power, stuff like that. But you're right, those things do tend to be behind closed doors because you can pretty much accuse anybody of abusing power or conflicted interest...

If someone gets censured because of it, we should have a right to know. If someone's exonerated, they have a right to remain nameless as far as I'm concerned. But rescheduling a meeting without posting notice is a total foul on their part. Thumbs up for keeping an eye on them, Steve!

Anonymous said...

The board members are listed on the BHA website: Margaret Weeks, Brian Succhinski, Gary Klemyk, Gary Schaffrick, and Brian Wolverton.

Anonymous said...

hey steve.......

can you invoke any FOI clauses ???

i'm sure something rotten is going on, but, i guess that's politics as usual.......

Steve Collins said...

Depending on what's up, it may be that they are handling everything correctly(other than posting meetings properly). They can do some stuff related to ethics probes behind closed doors.
I will read up on the details of the law, though, to see if there is anything I can find out.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, put the screws to the volunteers. How about Nancy Pelosi and Starkist? No ethics violation there to write about?

Steve Collins said...

Last time I checked, Nancy Pelosi had no connection to Bristol. But Starkist? I guess we have that for sale at some grocery stores.

Anonymous said...

Seventy-five percent of the work force in American Samoa is employed by Starkist. Mr. Nancy Pelosi owns millions of dollars worth of Starkist stock. Nancy exempted American Samoa from a minimum wage increase and supposedly gave Starkist some sort of deal in the "stimulus package." I think there has to be a little ethics violation there somewhere.

Steve Collins said...

If that's true re Pelosi and Starkist, it certainly sounds fishy.

Steve Collins said...

But it isn't true.
See this:http://www.factcheck.org/askfactcheck/
did_nancy_pelosi_get_wage_breaks_and.html

(you have to take the line break out when you copy the URL)

Anonymous said...

"Last time I checked, Nancy Pelosi had no connection to Bristol. But Starkist? I guess we have that for sale at some grocery stores."

Steve, that's because you forgot your secret liberal decoder ring.

Anonymous said...

steve......all meetings of the ethics review panel have been proprely posted and minutes kept and filed with the bha.........but you are correct that the foia provides for exec session unless or untill a finding of probable cause in an ethics investigation......unless the target requests open hearings........which has not happened in this case...........

Steve Collins said...

The meeting on Tuesday was posted properly, but nobody showed up for it so it was obviously cancelled without notice. That's not a biggie in terms of violations, but it is improper.

Anonymous said...

Who is the City Council Liason to the BHA?
Is he new, or did Ward reappoint?

bha laison? said...

Block

Anonymous said...

Block is not the BHA liaison. Cockayne is.

Anonymous said...

Aha!

ditto said...

6:51 - same thing

Anonymous said...

What a trifecta-- Schaffrick, Mocabee and Johnson.

Anonymous said...

What gives with the whole rage with using the term "secret" to describe executive session? Executive session is an integral part of public meetings. The business of a public entity is open and FOI-able EXCEPT certain matters allowed under executive session, including real estate transactions, negotiations, personnel matters, and investigations. This is 100% legal and acceptable because these are sensitive topics that HAVE to remain secret, at least temporarily, in order for business to be properly conducted.

If you truly believe that "transparency" applies to absolutely everything a public entity does, then you're naive. Should police have to disclose who they are investigating? Should Homeland Security be forced to release the names of all of their people of interest? Of course not; it would be completely inappropriate and would hinder the whole process.

So please stop throwing the word "secret" around like the Housing Authority is a bunch of shady ringleaders, as journalistically-tantalizing as that may sound.

Steve Collins said...

1:58 -- Newsflash: Most people don't know what "executive session" means. They know what "secret" means.
And it's entirely accurate.
Moreover, I don't think ethics cases should be done behind closed doors. I recognize the law allows it, but I don't have to pretend that I think it's appropriate because I don't.
The law is wrong.
There are things that should be secret, but this isn't one of them. Without transparency, we're left to trust three housing commissioners to conduct a valid probe. Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. How would the public know if the whole thing is secret?

Anonymous said...

The committee is one housing commissioner, one housing employee, and a 3rd party member and alternate, not three commissioners.

If there isn't a fair hearing, either side can litigate. If someone's name is brought into the public under the heading of "Ethics Probe" their career could be ruined, even if they aren't found to be in violation. If that's the way it worked, then you could simply file an ethics complaint against anyone you don't like, and they'd end up in the papers whether they're guilty or not.

An ethics violation can be something as simple as voting on a topic someone thinks you might have a personal interest in, or getting your car done by the same guy who does the company cars. These aren't crimes, they're potential violations of agency policy.

If keeping an investigation secret can avert costly litigation in the form of a defamation suit (which would be paid out in tax dollars by the way), then it's in everyone's best interest to let BHA play their hand the way they see fit to protect the funds they use to serve the residents of public housing in Bristol.

Transparency is extremely important, but so is careful handling of sensitive personnel matters.

Anonymous said...

The findings are in... no violation of the ethics policy took place.