Concord Ethics Board to weigh merits of complaints against two city councilors

Concord City Hall

Concord City Hall

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 06-21-2024 4:45 PM

Modified: 06-22-2024 10:32 AM


Concord’s Board of Ethics will weigh a handful of recent complaints against city officials, including against two city councilors at a meeting Monday morning.

The board will evaluate whether the complaints merit a public hearing or to dismiss them. The group has broad latitude to dismiss complaints — its rules state it can do so when it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the issue, the alleged infraction is not a violation of the code of ethics, the complaint is “on its face frivolous or otherwise lacks merit” or, most broadly, it finds any other reason to dismiss — but the decision must be unanimous.

After not receiving a complaint for 12 years, four ethics complaints were filed with the city within one week at the end of May, including some against Ward 5 Councilor Stacey Brown and Ward 8 Councilor Ali Sekou.

A complaint was filed against Brown by resident Tyler Savage over a vote she took at the May city council meeting to accept a city report to authorize closing Main Street for an event, which also carried a staff recommendation for a police detail. Brown’s spouse is a city police detective, and Mayor Byron Champlin said he felt Brown ought to recuse herself due to a potential conflict of interest. She declined.

“A conflict of interest exists when an officer or elected official takes an action or makes a decision that would affect his or her financial interest, the financial interests of the officer or elected official’s family member or the interests of any organization in which the officer or elected official or the officer or elected official’s family member is an employee of the organization or a member of its governing body,” the city’s code of ethics states.

Council rules put the onus on individual members to determine whether they have a conflict of interest, but the mayor can make a ruling. He didn’t in that case but did a month later during budget deliberations.

Savage also claimed that Brown had violated council rules by identifying herself as a councilor when speaking at public meetings, specifically at the city Zoning Board. The city’s ethics ordinance — which previously banned councilors from speaking in those venues at all — requires that councilors note that they speak as individual citizens and not as elected officials when they address any public body of the City of Concord, which notably excludes the autonomous school board. Savage also said Brown had “replied-all” on emails including all councilors — a violation of the state’s Right-to-Know law because it qualifies the communication as an unnoticed, and therefore an illegal, virtual meeting.

Dennis Soucy filed a complaint accusing Sekou of an ethics violation, but his complaint does not specify any infraction or when he believes it occurred. Soucy was defeated by Sekou for the Ward 8 seat in city elections last fall.

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To assess the merits of the complaints the board may, but is not required to, request that any person testify — including the person who filed the complaint and the accused official.

The board will also consider two complaints by Allan Herschlag, a former city councilor. Herschlag said that planning board member Erle Pierce, also a former city councilor, had appeared to recuse himself from an item before the board without stating his conflict of interest, something required by the ethics code. He also claimed that Greg Bakos, who chairs the city’s Transportation Policy Advisory Committee, was involved in planning a potential city park over the interstate as both a committee member and a project manager with the engineering firm working with the city.

The board will meet at 9:30 a.m. Monday in council chambers

Editor’s note: This article has been changed to reflect the city’s current Code of Ethics. An older version was quoted in the original article. The newest version removed language about an “apparent” conflict of interest.

Catherine McLaughlin can be contacted at cmclaughlin@cmonitor.com.