Newly elected Board of Finance member Nick Ellis has apparently been the subject of a coordinated effort to intimidate him into not participating in the budget process that thousands of voters elected him to do. Ellis was elected on a platform of weeding out waste and working to slow or reduce growth in taxes. A resident of Bethel for over 50 years, Ellis has his supporters and opponents. But some of those opponents have gone too far, and we urge them to reconsider the smear campaign being publicly waged to pressure Mr. Ellis to fail to perform his sworn, elected duty.
Here are the facts as we understand them: Last December Mr. Ellis went to the Rockwell school to see for himself if complaints by parents about the safety of students were accurate. He went into the unlocked school to get a better look, and received a misdemeanor ticket, equivalent to jay walking or double parking, which is not considered to be a serious criminal matter.
Then in early February, Mr. Ellis was charged for having removed a camera that was installed, without his permission, at a home he and his brother own and had rented to a family member. This was by all accounts a family issue, and the prosecutor refused to pursue it. Ellis paid a $40 fine to settle the matter. Case closed.
On February 6th, the Town attorney sent an email to Mr. Ellis advising him to recuse himself from voting on school and police budget matters. We believe it was ill-advised to send such a message. But then the email was shared with a local media outlet, who has been running a series of articles on Mr. Ellis, repeatedly citing his refusal to recuse himself despite the fact that not only is Mr. Ellis under no obligation to recuse himself over these minor infractions, but is instead under a clear obligation to participate as the voters expect and deserve. These efforts to interfere with Mr. Ellis' participation in the budget process lead one wonder why so much effort is being put into trying to sideline him.
One also wonders if Mr. Lawlor sent a similar note urging that Mr. Manfreda recuse himself from all Board of Finance activity while he is under active investigation from the state Freedom of Information Commission for alleged violations of state open meeting laws.
We certainly do not equate charges of walking into an unlocked school building to view safety issues or removing an unauthorized tenant camera installation with charges of repeatedly violating open meeting laws that hide discussion of potential fraud from public view.
One is clearly a much greater threat to the appearance of proper town governance than the other.