The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ethics and Illegalities: Protecting the People We Were Elected to Serve


At last November’s 2014 League of Municipalities Convention, one of the sessions I attended was titled “Recent Decisions in Local Government Ethics Complaints,” with an expert panel that included Thomas H. Neff, Director, Division of Local Government Services, State Department of Community Affairs; Patricia McNamara, Executive Secretary, Local Finance Board, State Department of Community Affairs; and Susan Jacobucci (former Director of the DLGS), Township Manager, Galloway. Here is the description of the session: “Public office and employment are a public trust that applies to all local government officials. The Local Government Ethics Law provides a method of assuring that standards of ethical conduct shall be clear, consistent, uniform in their application, and enforceable on a statewide basis. Are you aware of the decisions on recent ethics complaints? Are you receiving the correct advice regarding Ethics? This expert panel will answer these questions and more.”

It was an expert panel indeed, with a great deal of food for thought. Many people in attendance were, like me, municipal elected officials and city workers who were deeply concerned about their cities. When specific examples of possible corruption were given by the audience in the form of questions, MANY of them were answered with "that is not allowed under state law." It caused me to reflect on the 8 years of the previous administration--I was on the city council for the final 3 years--and on the mismanagement, fraud, and corruption that I (and others) tried to uncover (in some instances, successfully), and to seriously consider how the governing body should proceed over the next year—and into the future--regarding ethical and conscientious behavior.

In January, the council spent a great deal of time listening to disgruntled former seasonal employees as they went through an orchestrated tirade about the dissolution of a city baseball league that was begun under the previous administration and run through a recreation division where I uncovered fraud and corruption in 2012. I found these two PowerPoint slides (they were from a previous presentation by Jacobucci--"organization" is misspelled) that speak specifically to the illegality of giving city funds to a charity. It cannot be done. Period.

I am in favor of a forensic audit for the city, as the previous administration was clearly mired in ethical problems. My colleagues refused to allocate funds for the audit, which suggests that they are concerned about what a forensic audit might find. The former mayor also got up at the last meeting to say that she had given money to some feeding program charity--$8,000, she said—and she encouraged the city council to do so this year—but to give $10,000. 

I was inundated with emails from constituents asking whether I had approved money to be given to a charity. Of course not, I said—the city council did not approve of any city funds to be used for such a purpose. We could never do that! For one thing, it’s illegal. See below from the NJ State Constitution, which my colleagues swore under oath to uphold:

ARTICLE VIII, SECTION III
2.  No county, city, borough, town, township or village shall hereafter give any money or property, or loan its money or credit, to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, or become security for, or be directly or indirectly the owner of, any stock or bonds of any association or corporation.

     3.  No donation of land or appropriation of money shall be made by the State or any county or municipal corporation to or for the use of any society, association or corporation whatever.

This clearly shows that if former Mayor Robinson-Briggs gave $8,000 to a charity, she broke the law once again. This is why we need a forensic audit—who knows what happened to your money? The council is charged with oversight of the administration’s workings, and yet all we heard were weak excuses for not conducting an audit. Instead, we waste time with self-seeking individuals coming before the council to get money allocated for a baseball league that no longer exists. Their time would be better spent forming a non-profit league—as the other leagues (baseball, soccer, cricket, etc.) have done. It is an offense to waste the people’s time in this way. In the interest of honest, ethical leadership, the residents of this city must demand that their representatives do the right thing—let’s  have a forensic audit performed so that we can ensure that the taxpayers’ money was not being used illegally under the previous administration. 
Rebecca

3 comments:

  1. Rebecca, please do not concern yourself with details like following the law, or having ethics. It plays no part in this city. Many council members have no understanding about their duties on the council. It is apparent that they believe they can spend the city's money (yours, mine and theirs) as they see fit, having no inkling that they are beholding to the taxpayers of Plainfield.

    Why do they feel that? Because they are not held accountable by the voters, and because they have no clue what fiduciary responsibility is.

    Ethics - in Plainfield - and expecting some of the council members to abide by them? Again, Rebecca, details - details - details.

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  2. Did any other members of Plainfield's Council attend that forum?

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  3. Doc,

    I don't remember seeing any of my colleagues at that particular session--it doesn't mean they weren't there, though. :)

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