All five seats on the town of Weston’s Board of Ethics (BOE) are vacant following the resignation of the board’s two remaining members.
BOE member Sarah Grigerick and Board of Ethics Secretary Ruth Israely both submitted their letters of resignation to First Selectman Samantha Nestor at the end of May, Grigerick on May 30 and Israely on May 31. The Board of Selectman (BOS) voted to accept both resignations at a June 1 meeting.
Grigerick’s and Israely’s resignations come less than three weeks after the BOS voted to accept the resignation of BOE member Judy Stripp during a May 18 meeting. Stripp’s resignation came as the town continues to deal with the fallout from a BOE finding against BOS member Amy Jenner, which the BOS later rejected and voted to rescind.
During recent meetings, the BOS had debated whether or not to hold a public hearing for the purpose of potentially removing the remaining BOE members. Nestor and BOS member Martin Mohabeer voted to cancel the public hearing, scheduled for June 1, during their May 18 meeting. Jenner abstained from the vote.
Kerry Sheffield, a member of the Weston Democratic Town Committee, launched an online petition aimed at getting the BOS to cancel the public hearing. Garnering 155 signatures, the petition stated that the hearing was unnecessary because William Weiss, the former BOE chair, had accepted full responsibility for the finding against Jenner. Weiss resigned from his position in April.
The petition also stated that the BOS had not made a “clear statement of the basis for potential removal.”
“Simply put, the town should replace the two board members who resigned, allowing the new members to address pending complaints. Additional, unnecessary intervention will create an environment in which any future Board of Ethics may feel intimidated when faced with complaints against selectman.” the petition continued.
Sheffield claimed victory with an update to the petition following the BOS’ actions on May 18.
Both Grigerick’s and Israely’s resignation letters cited BOS’ conduct.
“Unfortunately, the conduct of the current Board of Selectmen has compelled me to make this difficult decision. They have allowed a select few citizens to publicly demean and disparage me. It has reached a point where I can no longer jeopardize my reputation, career, and the well-being of my children.” Grigerick wrote. “The reprehensible behavior propagated on social media is deeply disheartening. Furthermore, two Selectmans’ attempt to force an unnecessary hearing to shame and publicly humiliate me for a mistake made by someone else was wholly unwarranted. Participating in such proceedings would have required me to bear the financial burden of hiring legal representation.
Grigerick’s husband Darrel also submitted his resignation from the Parks and Recreation Committee on the same day. According to comments made by Nestor during the BOSE meeting on June 1, his resignation was the result of comments made about his wife on social media.
“I want to apologize to Sarah for the way you were treated on social media. I’m really sorry. I’m really sorry that after [the Board of Selectman] came to sort of a decision of not doing the public hearing that you felt that you had to resign, but I respect and regret your decision.” Nestor said before the board voted to accept Grigerick’s resignation.
Both Nestor and Mohabeer voted to accept Grigerick’s resignation, with Jenner abstaining.
In her resignation letter Israely said she was “surprised and disappointed” by what she perceived as a “complete absence of good faith” by the BOS.
“When I first learned that the Board of Selectmen was still considering removing the entire Board, I asked for a statement of what violations we had committed so that my colleagues and I could defend ourselves. I was informed that we would not receive one.” Israely wrote in her resignation letter.
Israely also stated that she was “heartened” to learn the BOS was considering not holding the hearing and that Jenner would drop a complaint filed in her personal capacity with the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) in exchange for Israely and another private citizen’s withdrawal of “certain FOIA requests” and the agreement the BOE would undergo training.
“I admit that I wondered what was in those FOIA responses that your colleagues did not want the public to see, but decided that if there would be no hearing to remove the Board of Ethics, that the purpose of my request was diminished. So I agreed.” Israely wrote.
But Israely said over two weeks had passed since the informal agreement was reached and that while she and the other, unnamed private citizen withdrew their FOIA requests, Jenner had not withdrawn her FOIC complaint.
“When I asked when [Jenner] plans to do so, I received no response. I interpret this as a statement that she does not intend to do so or that she intends to wait so that any remaining members will still have to devote time, energy, and resources to defending against it.” Israely wrote. She also said that she had received no correspondence about training, other than a recommendation from legal counsel that the BOE should not meet until after training was complete.
Israely reiterated that there was no evidence that either Stripp or Grigerick had done anything wrong.
“I resign in the belief that resignation ensures that your colleagues will not have an excuse to ensure that there is no functioning Board of Ethics here. It is my hope that you will be able to find volunteers now, and proceed so that the ordinary business of the town can resume.” Israely concluded.
Both Israelys’ and Grigerick’s resignation letters referenced conduct on social media, but offered no specific examples. The town of Weston’s Facebook page, the town’s only social media account, has a limit on who can comment on posts.
Before voting to accept Israely’s resignation, Nestor said she was sorry to everyone “who has been affected by this mistake” and hoped that town could move on and “get to the business of running the town.”
“I know, and the only way I can describe it, is this cluster that became the Board of Ethics that I think Mister Weiss did take responsibility for and I think there’s collateral damage, actually with Amy, and with Sarah, and with Judy, and for this I am incredibly regretful.” Nestor concluded.
Mohabeen said that while he accepted Israely’s resignation, he was having a “hard time accepting the letter because I think there are quite a few inconsistencies in the letter. And maybe even inaccuracies.”
Mohabeen added that he’d like to see any material included in public meeting documents go through a fact check process in order to avoid documents with “certain inaccuracies” become “part of the public record.”
Nestor and Mohabeen ultimately voted to accept Israely’s resignation, with Jenner again abstaining.