BY KATHY CHANG
OLD BRIDGE — The Ethical Standards Board will remain in the township.
The majority of the Township Council voted against disbanding the Ethics Board at a council meeting on Jan. 25.
Council President Brian Cahill said a move to disband the Ethics Board and have any ethical issues handled by the Local Finance Board of the state Department of Community Affairs had been put on the table last fall with the ultimate goal of weeding out politics.
Councilwoman Anita Greenberg-Belli said the board consists of members of clergy, attorneys, and retired state police troopers.
“It’s hard to see how they would be impartial,” she said adding that if concerns arise, the matter should be vetted in the township.
The board is appointed by the Township Council, which consists of six members who are residents of the Township and at least three of whom are clergy members.
The current members include Justin Smigelsky, Anthony Wilkinson, Deacon Andrew Strus, Father Jonathan Toborowsky, and Edward L. Dever.
John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, said from his experience the Ethics Board in Old Bridge has been better than most.
“They actually acknowledged my letter and did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “Many don’t even respond to my letters.”
In 2011, Paff sent a letter to the Old Bridge Ethics Board stating that a list of 20 individuals on the local government officer roster had not filed the Financial Disclosure Statements that were due in April of that year.
“Some [of those individuals] were fined $500,” he said.
The Local Government Ethics Law was enacted in 1991.
Paff said; however, with a proposed state Senate Bill No. 342, proposed by state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and state Sen. Tom Kean J. (R-Union), the decision by the Old Bridge Township Council may not even matter if the bill would pass.
The proposed law transfers responsibility for establishment and enforcement of ethical standards for local officials to the State Ethics Commission.
The fines that the state could impose would increase from a maximum fine of $500 that local boards are allowed to fine to a whopping maximum fine of $10,000.
Paff, who previously sat on an Ethics Board in his hometown of Franklin Township, said he supports the bill.
“My hometown council decided to abolish the board,” he said noting that he supported the decision. “We were offering hearings for those who complaints were filed against and running up attorney fees.”
The Township Council in Franklin decided rather than burden Franklin taxpayers with the increased attorney fees, these hearings could be heard in Trenton for free.
Paff said he believes the proposed bill of holding hearings before the State Ethics Commission would provide a much more transparent process than the Local Finance Board.
At best, Paff said the current county and local Ethics Boards are ineffectual and at worst established by the dominant political party solely to keep ethics matters local and thus under the party’s control.
The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee held a hearing on the state senate bill on Jan. 28 in Trenton.