Democratic Mayors Pan Their Freeholder Candidates’ Call For A County Ethics Board
By Art Gallagher
The Monmouth County Democrats have finally put forth a proposal to improve County Government.
It is not a new idea. It is not even a good idea. But at least they have put forth an idea for debate instead of spreading the lies and baseless character assassinations that have comprised their campaign so far this year.
Their campaign had been wholly negative; primarily baseless character attacks on Freeholder Director Lillian Burry. They lied and said Burry hired an unqualified campaign worker for a mental health position. Even after their lawsuit alleging that Burry had a conflict of interest over the Andrew Lucas farmland preservation deal was thrown out of court, they continue to beat that drum. The GOP controlled Freeholder Board has cleaned house at Brookdale Community College since former President Peter Burnham was caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Yet the Democrats have been blaming Burry for Burnham’s transgressions.
Democratic candidate Joe Grillo told The Asbury Park Press that he wants to reinstate a County Ethics Board. I know I’m being generous by saying this is a proposal to improve County Government instead of calling it an excuse to keep talking about the baseless allegations they are making about Burry. But what the heck. MMM is fair and biased. Let’s play along and debunk the idea on its merits.
Grillo said he wants an Ethics Board modeled after the Marlboro Township Ethics Board. The Marlboro Township Ethics Board has twice ruled that Councilwoman Randi Marder acted ethically when she voted for the Township to spend money with her own family’s business. The State Ethics Board, known as the Local Finance Board, sent the case back to Marlboro on appeal, ruling that they botched the case on the first hearing by relying on the wrong laws. The second whitewash is on appeal before the Local Finance Board now.
In towns or counties that don’t have their own Ethics Boards, ethics complaints are made directly to the State’s Local Finance Board. In Marlboro they have added a level of government that slows the process down. The Marder case in Marlboro has been dragging on for three years. The only winners are the lawyers who are billing the taxpayers and the complainants.
Marlboro’s Ethics Board is a Kangaroo Court comprised of Mayor Jon Hornik’s friends and supporters. It is hardly a model of what we should be doing on the County level.
When the Democratic Party controlled the Freeholder Board in 2009, the voted to create an Ethics Board. But they never appointed anyone to the Board, so it existed only on paper. When the Republican Party took back control of the Freeholder Board in 2010, they disbanded the vacant Board. That was the right thing to do, as the Local Finance Board already fills that function. Having a local ethics board is nothing more than a costly layer of bureaucracy that has no real purpose.
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty, a Democrat, told MMM that his borough does not have an Ethics Board and he doesn’t see a need for one. “You have the Local Finance Board,” Doherty said, “why would you create another board? I don’t see a need for it in Belmar. We’ve never had one and no one has ever brought it up.”
Red Bank Mayor Pat Menna, also a Democrat, told MMM that his borough has never had an Ethics Board and that he does not see a need for one. “In the past, when we’ve had a need for an advisory or interpretive opinion, the State’s boards and agencies have been very helpful,” Menna said.
Long Branch, where Democrat Adam Schneider is the mayor, does not have an Ethics Board. Schneider was emphatic that Ethics Boards are a bad idea. “I’m going to appoint a board to investigate me? That’s as obvious conflict and doesn’t pass the smell test,” Schneider said. “There are other better remedies, if needed; DCA’s Local Finance Board, the Prosecutor and the State Commission of Investigation, which by law must investigate complaints.” Schneider said that by law, Ethics Boards must have an attorney which he characterized as “an unnecessary expense.”
In Asbury Park, where Grillo served as Democratic Chairman and as a member of the Zoning Board…his only governmental experience… the city does not have an Ethics Board. City Media Contact Tom Gilmour said that the city uses the Local Finance Board if there is a need.
Union County and Hudson County, Democratic strongholds, do not have their own Ethics Boards. In fact, only seven of New Jersey’s 21 counties and only 40 of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities have informed the Department of Community Affairs that they have their own Ethic Boards. Nick Bennett of the Local Finance Board told MMM that it is possible that there are some counties and towns that have boards that have not been reported to DCA.
Monmouth County does not need a useless layer of bureaucracy to generate legal fees.
We don’t need another ethics watchdog because we have Freeholder John Curley with the Prosecutor and the press on speed dial. Prior to Curley’s tenure on the Freeholder Board there has always been one freeholder who prominently acted as a watchdog. Assemblywoman Amy Handlin filled that role for almost two decades. Anna Little filled the role during her short tenure on the Freeholder Board. When the Democrats controlled the Freeholder Board, the created an Ethics Board but didn’t fill it. Hmmm.
Given the sleazy campaign they are waging, it is ironic that Grillo and his running mate Larry Luttrell are talking about ethics. Hopefully they will turn a new leaf and start talking about how they will lower taxes while maintaining a AAA bond rating, like Burry, her running mate Deputy Freeholder Director Gary Rich and the rest of Republican freeholders have done. Hopefully, Luttrell and Grillo will put forth ideas on how to improve our County Parks, our County Library and our County Schools including Brookdale…all of which are already the best in New Jersey under Monmouth’s GOP leadership.