Thursday, October 1, 2009

Four Hasbrouck Heights officials fined for failing to file financial disclosure forms

Following is a news article reporting on $100 fines being imposed upon four Hasbrouck Heights (Bergen County) officials who failed to file their Financial Disclosure Statements. 

The fines were levied by Hasbrouck Height's own municipal ethics board, and not the Local Finance Board (LFB).  The LFB, to my knowledge, has yet to fine anyone for failure to file. 

The violation notice and complaint are on-line here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey
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Four fined for failing to file financial disclosure forms

Thursday, October 1, 2009
BY JUSTIN ZAREMBA
Community News (Lodi Edition)
STAFF WRITER

Following a complaint by a Sunshine Law activist, Hasbrouck Heights issued fines to four individuals for not filing financial disclosure forms on time.

John Paff of Somerset, an advocate for government transparency, issued a complaint to the municipality on June 2 claiming that 26 borough officials failed to file annual financial disclosure statements by April 30, 2008. The list of late-filers included members of the zoning board, the rent leveling board, the general assessment board, the ethics board and the fire department.

As part of municipal ordinance and state law, municipal employees are required to report their income sources every year in order to prevent possible conflicts of interest.

An investigation by the Hasbrouck Heights Ethics Board on July 13 concluded that 24 individuals failed to file their financial disclosure forms by the April 30 deadline. One individual on the list of non-filers retired and another was "erroneously included," according to a resolution by the ethics board.

While the board recognized that two dozen officials did not file their financial disclosure forms for more that 13 months, only four individuals were issued fines of $100.

Ethics Board Trustee Andrew Link said the board issued fines to Appraiser Ernest DelGeurcio, Plumbing Inspector Richard Vannatta, Public Defender Thomas Mason and Public Defender Alternate Mark Musella because they receive "compensation" from the borough.

"The majority of the people are volunteers which is why we forgave them the $100," Link said. "We decided [to fine the individuals] based on the fact that they received a certain amount of compensation from the borough."

Link stated the board tried to resolve the situation in August but was unable to reach quorum at the time because Trustee Garrett Pepe was one of the individuals who had failed to file on time.

Paff, who has filed similar requests in other New Jersey towns, explained that he did not expect Hasbrouck Heights' response.

"I'm not accustomed to having government officials act in compliance with the law," Paff joked.

Paff stated the borough's action will send a "strong message" to municipal employees.

"I think assessing fines is the appropriate action for Hasbrouck Heights," he said. "I think it sends a strong message and I predict that beginning about now people will file their financial disclosure forms on time."

Mason stated the late filing of financial disclosure forms by he and his law partner, Musella, was an "oversight" which they corrected earlier in the year. Mason stated he and Musella paid their fines the day after receiving notice from the borough.

Borough Clerk Rose Sees said all borough officials were currently in compliance with the financial disclosure ordinance for 2008 and 2009, except for one individual for 2009 forms. Sees declined to identify the late-filer, stating she expected her financial disclosure forms shortly.

DelGuercio, Pepe and Vannatta were unavailable for comment.

E-mail: zaremba@northjersey.com

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