Ocean County Ethics Watch: Summer Update
Here’s a look at the cases recently adjudicated by the state Local Finance Board involving Ocean County’s elected officials and bureaucrats.
According to records provided by the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), there have been no new formal ethics complaints filed against any of Ocean County’s officials during the year of 2016, thus far. Some of the other cases filed in previous years have also recently been disposed of, with the most recent action on any pending matters regarding Ocean County being in June of 2016.
In New Jersey, public officials are subject to the Local Government Ethics Law, N.J.S.A 40A:9-22.1, which was enacted in 1991. The law provides several key requirements for public officials, including the mandatory filing of an annual financial disclosure statement, and prohibiting certain types of activities that could diminish the public trust. A full overview of the statute is available from the state here.
Under the law, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs through the Local Finance Board conducts hearings and investigates ethics complaints filed against public officials. The DCA has been criticized in the past for not being transparent in the handling of ethics cases, as the only way to find out when ethics complaints have been filed is to file an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request periodically to obtain snapshots of current cases, as no information is posted to the board’s website regarding current cases.
Despite the requirements imposed by state law, government accountability experts like John Paff, who has won OPRA lawsuits against Ocean County and several of its municipalities, say that the LFB does not have enough teeth to enforce ethical rules.
After describing the lengths he went to to try and get the LFB to enforce its own requirements, Mr. Paff wrote “At this point, I really don’t know what else to do except to continue to announce that the Local Finance Board simply is not an effective enforcer of the Local Government Ethics Law. I have informed my state legislators of the problem and hopefully one of them is willing to intercede.”
If readers are interested in a specific case that was listed above, you can take that information and file another OPRA request in order to obtain correspondence and documents related to that specific case and its adjudication by the Local Finance Board.
Editor’s Note: While this website focuses just on Ocean County, many of our out-of-county readers may wish to peruse the LFB’s full roster of cases for every other county in the state in addition to those that were presented in this article. You can download this Excel spreadsheet we obtained to see the full docket of cases statewide. These cases are current as of the date we obtained it from the state, August 29th, 2016.