A decision has been made on the complaint against several Bethel officials to the State Elections Enforcement Commission. The agency found that the First Selectmen, two selectmen and two Public Utilities Commissioners violated state law when they sent out a letter encouraging residents to approve funding for water system upgrades. First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker told the Newstimes that money from the Public Utilities Commission--supported by water system customers--was used for the mailer about the recent water system upgrade referendum.
The SEEC did not fine the officials.
Bethel Action Committee members Cynthia McCorkindale and Billy Michael filed the complaint last fall. McCorkindale told the publication that she requested in her complaint that the commission not fine the officials in order to protect taxpayers.
Knickerbocker responded to resident questions on Facebook about the ruling. He gave background about the water system upgrades saying that toxic chemicals had been found in some parts of the Bethel water system and a temporary fix was put in place to ensure clean water.
Without the upgrades, Knickerbocker says Bethel water would not always meet state health standards. He also cited the Flint, Michigan debacle as prompting enormous concern. The utility department obtained a state low-interest loan for the upgrades, at no cost to taxpayers. Due to the way Bethel's Charter is written, a full referendum was required to accept the loan.
The letter which was the subject of the SEEC filing said that "...voters will be asked to approve..." borrowing the funds. The SEEC ruling said that the funds used to pay for the mailing are still considered public funds because the water department is owned by the town.
Knickerbocker believes the expanded definition ill make it harder in the future for the utilities commission to communicate to Bethel voters in cases like this.