On July 10, 2012, I blogged about the New Jersey Local Finance Board (LFB) clearing Wrightstown (Burlington County) Mayor Thomas Harper and his wife Mary Karen Harper of violating the Local Government Ethic Law (LGEL). I had filed a complaint against the Harpers because they, while members of Local Land Use Board, testified on April 14, 2009 in support of a land use application that a) was pending before the same land use board upon which they served, and b) concerned a property that was adjacent to their residence. I argued that even through they recused themselves from the land use hearing, it was still inappropriate for them to testify in support of their neighbor's application in their capacity as private citizens.
On July 24, 2012, two weeks after the LFB dismissed my complaint, the New Jersey Libertarian Party and I filed another complaint against the Harpers based on the same set of facts, plus one more: That Mrs. Harper had received, the year prior to her testimony, in excess of $2,000 from one of the "partner and clients" of the applicant. I felt that Mrs. Harper testifying in support of an applicant after having recently having been on the applicant's "partner's or client's" payroll constituted a clear violation of the LGEL.
The LFB, however, disagreed. In his January 18, 2013 letter, LFB Chairman Thomas H. Neff reported that the LFB had held that public officials are "not prohibited from representing themselves in negotiations or proceedings concerning their own interests" and that such "[s]elf-representation is permitted under the [LGEL] regardless of whether Mrs. Harper is an employee of a company that is allegedly a 'partner and client' of the applicant." Accordingly, the LFB dismissed the complaint as "having no reasonable factual basis for violation of the Local Government Ethics Law."
The Libertarian Party's complaint and the Local Finance Board's 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.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.S. The Harpers have beat a total of three ethics charges I have brought against them. Information on the third complaint is on-line here.