Kane takes issue with ethics in New Milford

A New Milford First candidate for town council, John Kane, said "ethics can be a pretty dull subject -- unless you are involved in an ethics complaint.

"Mayor Patricia Murphy recently proposed streamlining ethics proceedings," he said, "This may be laudable, but it also begs an explanation as to why she delayed an ethics hearing against [former GOP Board of Finance member] John Spatola for 14 months, after a full bipartisan Ethics Commission had found probable cause."

That complaint had been brought by Mr. Kane.

The issue, said Mr. Kane, was that Mr. Spatola, as a finance board member, allegedly acted to prevent the town from bidding competitively on United Water Company land that his longtime partner, Tom Pilla, already had bid on.

The town had the right of first refusal, Mr. Kane said. When the town could not bid on the land because of the finance board decision, he said, Mr. Spatola then, within months, bought from Mr. Pilla and developed at least two lots in the same subdivision.

During that 14-month delay, Mr. Kane said, all but one Ethics Commission members was replaced. Two, including the chairman, he added, resigned in protest.

This year, he said, New Milford paid Mr. Spatola's legal team $90,000.

"I believe," said the New Milford First candidate, "Mr. Spatola did not have to spend $90,000. I believe he did it because he knew the Republican-controlled Town Council would use taxpayer money to pay his attorney -- just like [I believe] the Republican-controlled Ethics Commission had allowed him to get away with voting on a matter in which he had a financial interest."

Mr. Kane continued: "The town has spent nothing on its own legal counsel and did nothing to pursue its own commission's findings."

"It is interesting to note," Mr. Kane said, "that the Republican-controlled town council has appointed Mr. Spatola's attorney [Bill Wellman] to the Board of Education and has appointed the Ethics Commission chairman [Joe Failla] to the town council.

"It may just be a perception," he said, "but it sure is interesting that the two principal players in this case got appointed. I thought the 'spoils system' ended long ago."

Mr. Kane and New Milford First have called for a state ethics code with regional commissions.

"Some local politicians clearly are not capable of policing themselves," he said.

New Milford First will be on line three of the ballot. For information, visit www.NewMilfordFirst.org.