Local Finance Board Faults Marlboro Ethics Board’s Investigation Into Councilwoman Marder’s Conflict
The New Jersey Local Finance Board (LFB), a part of the Department of Community Affairs found fault in the Marlboro Ethic Board’s (MTEB) investigation into conflict of interest charges file against Councilwoman Randi Marder. LBF remanded the matter back to MTEB for “additional investigation and application of the appropriate legal standard.”
Marlboro GOP Chairman Christopher Dean, then a candidate against Marder’s reelection, filed an ethics complaint against Marder in October of 2011 charging that the councilwoman “accepted tens of thousands of ‘no-bid’ business from the Township of Marlboro and funnelled it into Inkwell Global Marking Corporation, a company she and her husband run and manage.” After his filing his initial complaint, Dean submitted a letter requesting that MBE includ Mayor Jonathan Hornik and Councilman Frank LaRocca in their investigation.
MTBE held a hearing on July 11, 2012 and concluded that Marder did not violate the Township’s Ethic’s Code “simply because the Inwell continued to do business with the Township following Councilwoman Marder’s election” in 2008. The board also found that Honik and LaRocca should not be part of the inquiry because Dean did not fill out the right form.
Dean filed an appeal of MTEB’s decision which was received by LFB on August 10, 2012. Following its own investigation LBF Chairman Thomas H. Neff issued a letter to MTBE Chairman Dr. Michael Cali dated January 29,2013. Neff said that MTEB was right not to investigate Hornik and LaRocca because Dean did not fill out the right form and that Dean could fill out another complaint form.
But LBF took issue with MTEB’s findings that Marder did not violate the Township’s Ethics Code. LBF’s review of the record indicated that Marder did act in her official capacity on Township resolutions that included doing business with Inkwell. Additionally, LBF found that Marder omitted her family’s ownership interest in Inkwell from her Financial Disclosure Statements. Dean’s complaint and appeal did not include the omission.
Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, long a champion of government ethics and transparency, represents Marlboro in the State Legislature. Handlin expressed her disappointment with the situation.
“I find it surprising and more than a little disappointing that a local elected official would allow the town she represents to spend taxpayer dollars with her family business without disclosing her interests in the business,” said Handlin. “As elected officials we need to adhere to the highest ethical standards and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It’s just common sense. You shouldn’t need an ethics board to tell you it’s wrong.”
MMM asked Hornik for comment on LBF’s findings and remand. LaRocca responded with the following statement which invokes his credentials as a former member of the NJ Supreme Court District Ethics Commitee, maintains that neither Marder nor any member of the Marlboro Township Council voted to do business with Marder’s company and accuses Dean of petty politics:
“In reviewing the Local Finance Board’s decision of January 29, 2013, it appears that further investigation is required in order to satisfy the requirements of Advisory Opinion 92-014 to ensure that: 1) Councilwoman Marder does not vote on or take part in any ordering; and 2) formal bids or informal quotes, as appropriate, are obtained with Councilwoman Marder abstaining from any action concerning vouchers or involving the business. Having sat on the NJ Supreme Court District Ethics Committee, I believe that the request for additional findings is certainly in accordance with the Advisory Opinion.
However, having sat on council since 2008 along with Councilwoman Marder, I can say with certainty that no council person has voted on any ordinance, resolution, or action concerning Inkwell Global or Lenny’s Trophies in any way, shape or form. In addition, as any such orders have never exceeded the bid threshold, none of these transactions have, in any form, ever been before the council.
Lenny’s Trophies and Inkwell had conducted business with the Township of Marlboro for many years prior to Councilwoman Marder’s election in 2007, providing low cost items, trophies and awards for various township programs. Since the specious allegation was made public by then council candidate Dean, Lenny’s and Inkwell discontinued their business relationship with the Township at any level. The result, unfortunately, has been an increase in costs over and above the substantially discounted prices that Steven Marder (a life-long Marlboro resident) had graciously provided to his home town.
While I appreciate the required level of detail required by the LFB, I am continually saddened by the political actions of Mr. Dean and his party which serve no purpose other than to advance petty political agendas.”
The LBF letter can be found here.