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November 21, 2007

Code of Ethics goes to public hearing

LONDONDERRY | Despite serious misgivings by the town's attorney about a proposed code of ethics, councilors this week took the next step in the process of moving it toward a vote.

The board scheduled a public hearing on Dec. 3 that will allow questions and comments about the ordinance.

At their meeting Monday night, councilors read a letter from legal counsel Barton Mayer, who cautioned them about the wording of the document and the creation of a committee to enforce it.

"I confess that my concern is that the ethics committee component of the proposal is destined to become a disaster," Mayer wrote. "I have no doubt that it will be misused, consume excessive amounts of time, be very expensive and will generate a great deal of ill will."

Mayer said he worries that the code will open the town to liability, saying that if employees or officials were to be falsely accused of wrongdoing, the code could give them the right to sue the town.

The code of ethics, proposed by Councilor Brian Farmer, is based on the ordinance used by the town of Dunbarton. In its current form, it would cover all elected and appointed officials and all paid town employees.

Councilors Mark Oswald and Kathy Wagner opposed the hearing, suggesting instead a council workshop on the same date.

Oswald noted that there has yet to be any citizen involvement and that the wording of the ordinance is not specific to the town.

Farmer agreed that there are some issues with the language and that some things would have to be clarified.

"Shouldn't we draft an ordinance specific to Londonderry?" Oswald asked.

Wagner said she was disappointed with the council's acceptance of the proposal as it was submitted.

"It was assumed that we would adopt this as written," Wagner said. "I would like examples of unethical behavior ... that show that we need this document."

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