Monday, July 23, 2012

Local Government Ethics Law enforcement in New Jersey

Update: the 2013 version of the complaint roster is on-line here.

The majority of New Jersey counties and the vast majority of New Jersey municipalities have not created their own local ethics boards.  In those counties and municipalities, the Local Government Ethics Law, which prohibits certain types of financial dealings by local government officials and their families, is enforced by the Local Finance Board (LFB)  within the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.  (A list of the counties and municipalities that have established their own ethics boards is here. http://nj.gov/dca/divisions/dlgs/programs/ethics_docs/localbds.pdf)

Over the years, I have put some effort into tracking the cases that the LFB handles.  This endeavor is more complicated than it might first appear because the LFB's policy is to not release any information on any case, including the identities or towns of the officials under investigation, until the case is completed and because it often take a year or two--and sometimes several years--before cases are completed. 

The only way I've found to keep track of the LFB's cases is to periodically submit an OPRA request for a roster of all cases, ordered by docket number.  Such a roster, which I OPRA'd in February 2009 (and converted to an Excel file) is on-line here.  Another, which I OPRA'd only a week or so ago, is on-line here.  By comparing the two lists, one can identify cases that have resolved since the older roster was prepared.  One can determine, for example, that LFB Docket No. 2007-002, which was filed on January 4, 2007 against Secaucus Councilman (now Mayor) Michael Gonnelli by Robert Kickey, who lost his council seat to Gonnelli in 2006, was resolved sometime between February 2009 and now. 

In order to find out what the case was about and whether or not the ethics charges against Mayor Gonnelli were dismissed or sustained, one could submit an OPRA request to the LFB for "the 'notice of dismissal' 'notice of determination' notice of violation' or other closing letter sent to the complainant in LFB Docket No. 2007-002."  (Such OPRA requests can be submitted on-line by accessing the "State Request Form" here and then selecting "Community Affairs" and then "Division of Local Government Services.")

Readers will note that there are cases from 2006 and 2007 which are still pending and for which no information is available.  For example, Docket No. LFB-2006-011, filed in May of 2006, is still pending more than six years later in July 2012.  For all we know, this complaint could be against a mayor or councilman who is up for reelection in 2012 or who was just reelected in  2011.  One could argue that it's not good policy to keep voters in the dark for the better part of a decade about an ethics matter that might be relevant to how they cast their ballots.

In any event, I hope that readers find this information useful.  Please look over the most recent list to see if an official from your town has been the subject of a closed ethics complaint.  If so, consider submitting an OPRA request for the case documents to inform yourself, and perhaps your neighbors, of the ethics infraction alleged and the case's outcome.

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