The Vermont State Ethics Commission has parted ways with executive director Brian Leven after less than a year, commission chair Madeline Motta announced Sunday.
While both say the decision was mutual, they disagree about what precipitated it. Leven blamed a disagreement over the panel's power, accusing its members of overstepping their authority. Motta alleged that the director wasn't performing his duties adequately.
Vermont Law School professor Larry Novins has replaced Leven as executive director, according to Motta. VTDigger.org first reported the dispute Monday.
Leven, a Stowe lawyer who previously served as deputy secretary of state, said his differences with the commission date back to August, when the body issued an advisory opinion concluding that Gov. Phil Scott had violated the state ethics code by personally financing the sale of his company, DuBois Construction. The high-profile decision was spurred by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which had requested the opinion. Scott later slammed the five-member commission for failing to give him the opportunity to present his case.
The commission, created by a 2017 law, is charged with reviewing and referring allegations of governmental misconduct, but it has no investigative or enforcement powers.
Leven previously argued, and continues to believe, that the commission erred by ruling on the specifics of Scott’s case. He wrote a draft opinion on the matter, but the commission rejected it and wrote its own. The law establishing the commission, he wrote at the time, "confers only the authority to provide general advice or interpretation."
Leven maintains that this fundamental disagreement about the commission’s power prompted his departure. “I just realized that the dynamic really wouldn’t work,” he said in an interview Monday.
Motta declined to address the dispute in detail.
“I don’t want to wade into that right now,” she said. “We were considering a change way before that happened.”
According to Motta, Leven wasn’t performing basic job duties, which included developing the commission’s website, working on its annual report and providing an ethics training to state lawmakers. As a result, the commission members were forced to pick up the slack, she said.
“He can say whatever he wants, but work wasn’t getting done,” Motta continued.
Leven denied that he’d dropped the ball on any of his duties and said he was surprised by the chair's claims. “The one thing they had made aware to me that I wasn’t doing was writing an advisory opinion” regarding Scott’s construction company.
"Hopefully the commission will get back on track," Leven said, noting that he thinks it should have investigative powers. "Having a commission like this is a real resource, and I hope that they’re ultimately successful."
Corrected at 9:13 p.m. An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Gov. Scott's former business.