Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Local Finance Board Rejects Seven of my Complaints

Since early June 2009, I have filed formal complaints with the Local Finance Board against 182 Local Government Officers serving seven local governments. This is in addition to the formal complaints that I have filed against 70 Local Government Officials in municipalities that have their own ethics boards. All the complaints regard similar conduct--the officials' failure or refusal to file their Financial Disclosure Statements. (For background, search this blog for "Financial Disclosure.")

In order to save time, postage and paper, my procedure has, up to now, been to create PDF files of my complaints and e-mail them to the Local Finance Board's offices. I considered each of my complaints to be "signed" because they contained an electronic version of my signature in the signature block.

Today, however, the Local Fiance Board informed me that it was rejecting each of seven complaints that I've filed since June 1, 2009 because my electronically signed complaints do not, in their opinion, meet the statutory requirement that a "signed written complaint" must be submitted. See N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.9.) Instead, the Board said that it will not process my complaints unless and until they are resubmitted "as a hard copy with an original signature."

So, I've printed out and assembled those seven complaints and they will be on their way to the Board's Trenton offices in tomorrow's mail. I only wish that the Local Finance Board applied the Local Government Ethics Law to government officials with as much vigor as it applies it to citizen complainants.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

--Board's e-mail

Dear Mr. Paff:

The Local Finance Board (Board) has recently received several complaints from you by e-mail including those against officials in the [names of municipalities].

While a former staff member to the Board has apparently accepted complaint letters transmitted via e-mail by attachment from you in the past, the statute (N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.9), as well as, the Board’s adopted Rules (N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.1(a)) requires a signed written complaint with an original signature. Therefore, in accordance with the Statute, we are requesting that you submit all complaints to the Board as a hard copy with an original signature. You may mail your complaint with an original signature to: Susan Jacobucci, Chair, Local Finance Board, P.O. Box 803, Trenton, New Jersey 08625. Those em ails submitted as complaints since June 1, 2009, will not be logged in as complaints unless they are received with an original signature. Furthermore, please be advised that some of the titles listed in your complaint may not be required to file a Financial Disclosure Statement. Auditors, Special Counsel and Members of Advisory Boards are generally not required to file. While the Ethics Law applies to all employees and officers of local governments, the financial disclosure requirement applies only to local government officers as defined in N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.3g., which states in pertinent part:

.... any person, whether compensated or not, whether part-time or full-time: (1) elected to any office of a local government agency; (2) serving on a local agency which has the authority to enact ordinances, approve development applications or grant zoning variances; (3) who is a member of an independent municipal, county or regional authority; or (4) who is a managerial executive or confidential employee of a local government agency, as defined in Section 3 of the "New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act," P.L. 1941, c.100 (C.34:13A-3), but shall not mean any employee of a school district or member of a school board.

Furthermore, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.3.e states:

"Local government agency" means any agency, board, governing body, including the chief executive officer, bureau, division, office, commission or other instrumentality within a county or municipality, and any independent local authority, including any entity created by more than one county or municipality, which performs functions other than of a purely advisory nature, but shall not include a school board.

The Office of the Attorney General (AG) has issued various opinions that give advice as to the type of positions that are considered "local government officers." These opinions may be viewed on the Divisions web site at http://www.state.nj.us/dca/lgs/ethics/ag_opinions/opinions_toc.shtml. However, neither the Board, nor the Attorney General's Office is in a position to examine every local position or body in the State that is created by ordinance and determine whether or not it is subject to filing requirements. These determinations, to a large extent, are fact sensitive and must be determined on a case-by-case basis by each local government.

If you have any questions regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact David Nenno at (609) 292-0479 [or ]

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