Town Councilor Dana McFee has been nothing if not candid, outspoken and often, vitriolic. But his statements Wednesday night at the Town Council meeting related to his proposal that the town create a Ethics Commission drew sharp condemnation from Council President Candy Buebendorf and provoked another councilor to engage in a shouting match with McFee, one that led a resident to storm from the meeting in disgust shouting “Enough, enough!” Not to mention shaking heads and stunned and embarrassed glances from other councilors and people in the Council Chamber audience.
McFee had previously placed a proposed ethics commission discussion on a council agenda but he did not get a second for discussion. Wednesday he did; from Town Councilor Rosetta Jones who herself was the subject of an ethics complaint (which was later dropped). Jones, who remained calm throughout the incident said she herself, was “persecuted.”
“Many towns do have established commissions,” she said. “It’s really important. I do hope you’re not going to let it go.”
McFee spoke of an incident that centered on an ethics complaint brought last year that was discussed in an executive session. And to that, Buebendorf objected; “You’re out of line.”
But McFee said, "I don't care," and continued to make his point: that Councilor Gary Murphy had flip-flopped on whether or not he supported an ethics commission based, McFee challenged on politics and political allegiances. Murphy had previously said that McFee should have paid closer attention to statements Murphy made in a recent media report which indicate he did not flip-flop: “If you listened instead of shooting your big mouth off...”
“I’m not opposed to this,” he said. But McFee continued that Murphy had been “playing politics” with the issue.
Before the heated exchange, a number of residents spoke about the importance of such a commission including one who said that while “sometimes (complaints are) hogwash, sometimes they’re not” and should be independently investigated.
Ellen Hillman said a commission should be set up and be an at once autonomous and independent panel of citizens so as to avoid the council sitting as “judge and jury” when complaints about councilor conduct are made.
Buebendorf pointed out that the Town Charter addresses the matter and provides that the Council has the authority to investigate any ethics complaints but suggested an opinion from the town attorney might be in order.
Ultimately it was decided that the council would seek guidance from the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, a public agency that includes representatives from regional towns and cities on forming a commission.