MERIDEN — The Board of Ethics determined last week that City Councilor Bob Williams Jr. and his employer should not be precluded from appearing at emergency scenes in the city that involve property losses, with a limitation regarding properties that are city owned.
The board issued the ruling after Williams made an advisory request.
Williams is a territory manager for BluSky Restoration Contractors, LLC, a national firm that specializes in property restoration, renovation, roofing and environmental mitigation following damage related to fire, water and other disasters, according to the company’s website. Williams began working with the firm, which has an office in Glastonbury, earlier this year after it merged with his previous employer, American Integrity Restoration.
The board’s caveat in its advisory related to city properties. The advisory cautioned that BluSky and WIlliams specifically need to ensure they comply with the city’s service procurement process, and contracts must strictly follow the city’s prescribed bidding and purchasing procedure.
On Aug. 5, Williams sent an email to the board asking whether he would be barred from visiting scenes of property damage within the city of Meriden due to his role as an elected official. In the email he used a hypothetical response to the a scene of a fire. Williams wrote he would attend such a scene and see if his employer “can assist the party in question.” The work would involve stabilizing the structure.
“In most of these cases we also perform the Mitigation work & afterwards we normally do the repairs as needed, as per the direction of the Insurance carrier and or ownership,” Williams wrote.
He added, in most cases there are “a number of different companies” from his trade on site, and it is up to the impacted property owners to determine which contractor they select. Williams described BluSky as a company that serves municipal buildings, along with a variety of residential and commercial buildings.
During the board’s discussion of Williams’ ethics question on Aug. 9, members asked how representatives for companies like BluSky are notified of fires and other property damage.
Williams explained that representatives are alerted through smartphone apps. He said so far has not represented the company in responding any incidents in Meriden.
Ethics Board member Sanford Bruce asked whether any city funds are involved in emergency remediation jobs.
Williams explained that his company works at the direction of insurance companies, adjusters and property owners.
“But there’s no municipal funds, unless it’s a municipal building?” Bruce asked.
“Correct,” Williams responded.
Ethics Board chairman Kenneth Post asked Williams what his concern was when he made his advisory request. Post said either Williams or someone else saw a concern.
“It was no one other than me,” Williams said, explaining he would rather have an advisory opinion determined rather than arrive at a scene and receive questions about his presence and role as a city councilor.
Post said the board needs to separate municipal buildings from other properties, because of the potential for Williams to be working as a contractor for the city.
“That opens up more questions,” Post said.
Post later said for him it comes down to a single question: “Is your position as a city councilor giving you some kind of a unfair advantage anywhere, along the lines of you getting either an earlier opportunity than your competitors or somebody else just saying, Councilor Williams is in this business, hire him, he’s our councilor. That would be my concern.
“Where is your status as city councilor influencing this process?” Post asked, saying he can see an outside observer questioning whether that is the right thing to do. “It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But it’s going to look bad. “
“Well, I don’t think it gives me an advantage,” Williams said. “I’m not going to be privy to anything that may come up prior to anyone else quite frankly...There’s no influence or advantage there.”
Ultimately, the board’s vote was unanimous.
Williams is the latest City Councilor to seek an advisory opinion from the Board of Ethics. Earlier this year, the board advised that City Councilor Krystle Blake should recuse herself from discussions or votes that directly involve her employer, the Boys & Girls Club of Meriden. Blake is currently employed by the Boys & Girls Club as assistant executive director.
Council colleague Larue Graham, the deputy majority leader, similarly requested an advisory opinion in early 2020, when he was named the organization’s executive director.
Graham was advised that he should not chair meetings that involve such discussions. He was advised that he could vote on budgetary matters that involve funding allocations to his employer. But, he previously told the Record-Journal that when those matters come up, he would most likely recuse himself from those discussions or votes to avoid the appearance of a potential conflict.