Stamford Board of Ethics: No public reprimand for Rep. Anabel Figueroa
STAMFORD — The Board of Ethics has voted to not issue a public reprimand against city Rep. Anabel Figueroa after a subgroup of the board found that the longtime representative had violated Stamford’s ethics code.
The ethics board launched an investigation into Figueroa, D-8, after a fellow city representative, Jonathan Jacobson, D-12, lodged a complaint against her around the beginning of this year. His complaint was over Figueroa speaking out and voting against the reappointment of Myrna Sessa, a Board of Ethics member who had investigated a different complaint against Figueroa in 2019.
Three members of the Board of Ethics investigated Jacobson’s complaint. Three other members held a series of public hearings and then voted in favor of finding that Figueroa had violated a part of the Code of Ethics related to debating and voting on a matter while having a conflict of interest.
Jacobson told Hearst Connecticut Media on Thursday that he had “no opinion” on the Board of Ethics’ vote.
Figueroa, however, said she was “very pleased with the outcome.”
She told Hearst Connecticut
Media on Thursday that she stood by the criticisms of the Board of Ethics that she made when she voted against Sessa’s reappointment last year.
“I expressed my great concerns about reappointing each of the sitting members of the Board of Ethics,” said Figueroa, who was elected in 2001 and is running for reelection this year. “Particularly, I expressed my opinion that the Board of Ethics had issued advisory opinions that were wrong and costly to the taxpayers. There have been too many mistakes and no accountability. The city of Stamford deserves better.”
In the 2019 case, Figueroa took part in a vote on a police chief nominee when her son was a Stamford police officer. Sessa had led a group of Board of Ethics members who investigated that complaint. The proceeding ended in a stipulated agreement between the
investigators and Figueroa in February 2020.
Sessa’s reappointment came before the full Board of Representatives in August 2020.
In a memorandum of decision issued last month, ethics board members said that when it came to Sessa’s reappointment, Figueroa “had a personal interest that created a divided loyalty which influenced or impaired the independence of her judgment as a representative.” Figueroa therefore had a conflict of interest, they said, and she failed to disclose it and recuse herself from the discussion and vote.
The ethics board debated whether to issue a public reprimand for about an hour during a meeting Wednesday evening.
“It would seem to me that those who participated in this effort would think that there should be some conclusion at the end of it, that it’s just not left hanging in the air. Otherwise, maybe the efforts are for naught,” said Allan Lang, the chairman of the board. “Why would the code have a provision for some kind of a sanction if it wasn’t meant to be used?”
The Code of Ethics states that anyone found in violation “may be issued a public reprimand by the Board of Ethics.”
Lang was one of the board members who conducted the public hearings and voted in favor of finding
that Figueroa had violated the code. Another member of that subgroup, Fred Springer, argued that the board should take no further action.
“My feeling is we’ve done our job,” Springer said. “We put it through a proper hearing. We considered all of the testimony, all of the facts, came to a conclusion and sent our conclusion to the Board of Reps to do with as they so choose. That’s as far as I’m prepared to go.”
But ethics board member Thomas Hynes said they should find out whether the Board of Representatives intended to take any action on the memorandum of decision.
“If they’re not, then I think we are obliged under the (ethics code) to consider making a public reprimand,” Hynes said.
Stephen Conover, an attorney who served as counsel to the Board of Ethics members who held the public hearings, said the memorandum of decision is already publicly available.
“I’d be naive to assume that it has not been impactful in some fashion so as to fit the description or the definition of reprimand, and the definition of reprimand is a public rebuke,” Conover said.
The board then considered a motion to delay its decision on whether to reprimand Figueroa until Lang spoke with President
Matthew Quinones about whether he expected the Board of Representatives to take any kind of action.
According to the ethics code, a violation by an elected official “may be considered dereliction of official duty, a cause of removal from office” under Stamford’s charter. Removal requires three-quarters of the Board of Representatives voting in favor. The board can also censure members.
“I frankly don’t believe that the Board of Representatives would take any action, particularly if it requires … a vote in favor of some sanction by three quarters of the membership of the board,” Lang said.
Therefore, Lang said, the Board of Ethics had two choices: issue a reprimand or “just say ‘We’ve done our job. It’s been made public. Everybody’s aware of the violation of the code.’ ”
Board member Benjamin Folkinshteyn called a public reprimand “needless.”
“I don’t think a public reprimand is going to move the ball forward in any meaningful way,” he said.
The motion to delay failed. The motion to not issue a reprimand passed on a 5-1 vote, with only Hynes opposed. Sessa recused herself from the discussion about Figueroa and didn’t vote.