On January 15th, the Vermont Ethics Commission published their 2018 Annual Report. If you’d like to read the whole document, you can do so at the link here. Otherwise, below is a breakdown of some notable content coming out of that report.
Campaign for Vermont was a champion of the original legislation in 2017 that led to the creation of the Ethics Commission, making Vermont the 48th of 50 states to establish a formal ethics commission for its state officials. Unfortunately, the version of the bill that ended up passing was missing some key components that CFV would like to see implemented. Of primary concern is the lack of authority and transparency in the process. As currently established, the Commission can do little more than serve as a referral group, simply comparing complaints to a checklist and passing it on. They have no enforcement abilities, meaning that even if a complaint is found to violate the established principals of ethical conduct, there is no guarantee that the involved official will be held accountable once the issue is handed off. In fact, of 11 complaints referred, 9 were denied and two are pending. Additionally, Vermonters are not entitled to knowing the outcomes of complaints.
Ethics Complaints Data
- 36 complaints making up 19 unique issues filed state-wide involving public officials, legislators, municipal employees, and State employees.
- The subject of complaints included conflict of interest in: official duties or responsibilities; campaign/political activity; financial or business transactions; employment; and the use of government property and resources.
- The greatest topic of concern was related to official duties or responsibilities.
- Of the 19 unique complaints, the majority were related to subject matter for which there was no State Agency appropriate for complaint referral.
- Complaint referrals: 5 to the House Ethics Panel, 2 to State’s Attorney, 3 to the Department of Human Resources, 4 to the Attorney General, and 8 not referred.
- Of complaints referred, 2 are pending and 9 were denied.
- Adopted general principles of ethical conduct in June of 2018. See them here.
- Attempted to participate in the new legislator’s orientation day in November 2018, but did not receive any response to their requests. It was later confirmed that ethics training for that event was performed by trainers from the National Conference of State Legislators.
- Presented a Governmental Ethics Training to the VT Government Finance Officers Association 2018 Summer Workshop and Annual Meeting.
- Exhibited at VT League of Cities and Towns Town Fair in October 2018.
- Produced an informational brochure with State Ethics Code insert, as well as a companion poster. These were distributed to every state agency and division office.
- Purchased an ethics training video which was made available to all government employees.
- Continued to develop policies and procedures to guide work in complaint handling, ethics guidance, and advisory opinions.
Ethics Guidance Data
- Received 62 contacts from public officials and state employees requesting ethics guidance.
- 40 of 62 guidance requests were related to financial disclosure.
- Other topic areas where guidance was given: complaint procedures; conflict of interest trainings; campaign/political activity; general
- informational inquiries; and other guidance.
Commission Suggestions and Requests
- Bestow a level of investigative authority that allows the commission to better serve Vermonters.
- Create a full-time examiner/investigator position.
- Create a part-time administrator position.
- Clarify language that requests for advisory opinions are limited to those made by executive officers, legislators, or other state employees who are subject to the VT State Code of Ethics.
Vermonter's deserve a strong system for ethical accountability. We need an Ethics Commission that serves the public in a way that leaves voters with confidence and trust.
Here are three easy ways you can help us in our fight for a more prosperous and economically secure Vermont.
- Make a financial contribution. Your support will go directly toward engaging an educated public in issues of vital importance and putting people in the statehouse to fight for you.
- Contact your legislator and ask them what they are doing for you. Politicians work for us. In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhauer, “we the people elect leaders not to rule, but to serve.”
- Follow us on social media. Keep up with the latest updates and opportunities for action.
- Look through our website. Take some time to read our position statements, learn about our past efforts, and connect with the team that is working for you.