It's always fun making new friends in municipal government.
Somerset, New Jersey
Milltown taken to task on financial disclosures
Libertarian Party member reminds town of state's reporting regulations
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
BY RYAN HUTCHINS
For the Star-Ledger
An advocate of open government says 19 Milltown officials -- including an ethics board member -- haven't followed financial disclosure regulations.
It's an all-too-common issue in municipalities around the state, said John Paff, who as chairman of the Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project filed the complaint.
"I'm trying to jump-start them into doing their jobs," Paff said.
In Milltown, one of the first municipalities Paff has approached about the issue, he said members of various panels, such as the zoning and planning boards, did not file disclosures for 2008 by April 20 -- nearly a year after the documents were due.
Since the complaint, three or four officials have filed 2008 disclosures, according to Milltown Clerk Michael Januszka.
Paff said the filings are intended to make the public aware of conflicts of interest that might prevent officers from being objective, such as if a spouse of a zoning board member works for a company with business before the board. If the officer had a financial disclosure on file, residents would be aware of any possible conflict.
In his letter to Milltown, Paff suggested that a member of the ethics board be in charge of sending reminders when disclosures are due. It's what Mount Olive has done to achieve 100 percent compliance, he said.
Ethics Board Chairman Edward Winant responded to Paff's letter by e-mailing Januszka, asking the clerk to encourage filings by letting officers know disclosure is a requirement "to serve on their respective committee, board, or commission, and because of municipal ordinance and state law, failure to file ... will result in their dismissal from their particular committee, board, or commission."
Januszka said he didn't receive the disclosure forms from the state in time to do that this year, but that he'll send a reminder to anyone who hasn't filed by the due date and forward a list of who didn't file on to the state and to Winant's panel. "Either the ethics committee or Trenton can decide what they want."
But he takes issue with Paff, a Franklin resident, who he describes as an overzealous gadfly with nothing better to do. "I don't know who made him the policeman for all this."
Paff said he's not trying to pick on Milltown in particular, just encourage more proactive measures from municipal ethics boards and finance boards, which stand in on the issues in localities where there isn't an ethics board.
"This shouldn't be my job," he said yesterday, speaking by phone from his second home in Florida. "A lot of people criticize 'what's he doing this for?' I'm doing it because I have to."
The clerk said it's tough to find people to take positions on some of the boards that had members who didn't file, and it's even tougher with Paff filing complaints.
"You're not talking employees," Januszka said. "These are volunteers."
Winant acknowledged that in his letter to the clerk, which Paff provided. "I further realize that it is difficult to get residents to serve," he wrote. "However, this is the law. Everyone should comply or not accept these positions."
Ryan Hutchins is a reporter for the New Jersey Local News Service. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.