Ethics ordinance introduced by council; will be discussed

Applicants before local boards must disclose political donations


The Monroe Township Council introduced an ethics ordinance June 4 to replace the one deemed unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last April.

After repealing the original ordinance, which was deemed too broad in scope by Judge James Hurley, the council voted unanimously to introduce the new ordinance, modeled after a template from the Citizens’ Campaign, a nonpartisan offshoot of the national group Common Cause.

“They felt that theirs would stand up,” Mayor Richard Pucci said of the new ordinance. “Hopefully, this is a start.”

The new ordinance has several changes, but still upholds a requirement for political contribution disclosures on the part of applicants going before township boards.

The disclosure requirement that encompassed political contributions at the county, state and national level has been changed to require only disclosures on contributions that pertain to Monroe Township.

Instead of the initial regulation that required applicants to disclose contributions from two years prior, the new ordinance carries a requirement of one year.

Penalties for a knowing failure to disclose contributions were set at a $2,000 fine, and/or the remanding of an application back to the board in question. While the new ordinance does not carry penalties for failing to disclose, it makes contribution disclosures a requirement before an application can be heard.

“None of our ordinances carry penalties, but they’ve been adopted in more than 30 towns [in New Jersey],” Heather Taylor of Citizens’ Campaign said.

The ordinance was struck down after Greenridge Estates developers filed suit against the township, claiming its requirements violated their rights under the state and federal constitutions.

Along with the court decision that the ordinance violated First Amendment rights of freedom of association because it would require applicants to reveal their political affiliations, Hurley also raised the issue of an applicant being treated unfavorably by board members who held opposing political views.

Hurley also pointed out in the ruling that only two members of the planning and zoning boards are elected officials, making the disclosure of political contributions something of a moot point. In addition, he stated that the requirements of the ordinance could have a chilling effect on political contributions.

After the April 17 ruling, Township Attorney Joel Shain said he recommended an appeal in the courts. At the council meeting, however, Pucci said officials decided the best course of action would be to maintain as many components of the original regulations as possible, and incorporate them into a new ordinance, as Hurley did not strike all sections of it.

“I know a lot of time went into that, with the fine committee we put together,” Pucci said at the meeting.

After facing allegations of acting in a conflict of interest with regard to his consulting work for a political action committee, Pucci formed an ethics panel in 2006 as a means of creating stricter standards for township officials.

The panel worked to create seven ordinances addressing pay to play and other potential conflicts, which the council adopted last year.

“They considered ours a model of the strictest throughout the state of New Jersey,” Pucci said.

According to Taylor, the newly introduced ordinance comes with a “proven track record.” It was upheld by courts after being challenged in Hoboken, she said.

Taylor will be on hand to answer questions at the July 7 council meeting, when a public hearing will take place on the matter.