Monday, July 16, 2012

Wrightstown mayor, wife exonerated on another ethics charge

In a July 10, 2012 letter, Local Finance Board Chairman Thomas H. Neff dismissed another ethics complaint against Wrightstown Borough (Burlington County) Mayor Thomas Harper and his wife Mary Karen Harper.  This dismissal comes on the heels of Neff's July 3, 2012 dismissal which is reported here.

The most recent dismissal regarded a December 10, 2011 complaint filed by John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project.  The complaint alleged that both Harpers, who served on Wrightstown's Joint Land Use Board, were in an impermissible conflict of interest when they moved and voted in favor of appointing David C. Frank, Esq. as the Land Use Board's attorney while Frank was serving as registered agent for two limited liability corporations owned by the Harpers.  Those two corporations, Each Leasing, LLC and Avis, LLC, each own real estate in Wrightstown Borough.

In his complaint, Paff had alleged that the Harpers violated the Local Government Ethics Law "by failing to recuse themselves from voting on three resolutions that awarded a no-bid contract to Mr. Frank, who had a standing business relationship with them by serving as registered agent of the two limited liability corporations."  He also alleged that Frank himself had violated the Act "by simultaneously acting as Wrightstown Land Use Board attorney and as registered agent for the two limited liability corporations in which two members of Land Use Board held an interest."

Neff found that both of Paff's charges lacked a "reasonable factual basis for violation of the Local Government Ethics Law." Neff reported that the Local Finance Board "determined that the business relationship between the Harpers and Mr. Frank did not constitute a business relationship that would be in violation of the Local Government Ethics Law."  He characterized the relationship between the Harpers and Mr. Frank as "legitimate and unavoidable in a free society" and distinguished it from matters "which are prejudicial and material and . . . corruptive of democracy and a free society."

The complaint and dismissal letter are on-line here. We hope that publication of this matter will help local government officers better determine the contours of the Local Government Ethics Law.

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