Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ethics Complaint against Lawrence and Commercial Township officials

01/23/17 UpdateComplaint dismissed.

April 22, 2013

Thomas H. Neff, Chair
Local Finance Board
101 S Broad St – PO Box 803
Trenton, NJ 08625-0803   
(via e-mail only to thomas.neff@dca.state.nj.us)           

Dear Mr. Neff:

I intend this letter to be my complaint against a total of six (6) Local Government Officers in the Townships of Lawrence and Commercial in Cumberland County.  In accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.1(b), following are the required elements of the complaint:

1. State the point of the Local Government Ethics Law alleged to be violated. 

N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(c) states that "no local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others"

2. State the name(s) and title(s) of the parties involved in the action and against whom the complaint is filed.

Complainant John Paff and the New Jersey Libertarian Party and the following six individuals who served on the Commercial Township and Lawrence Township Committees in 2008:
  • George W. Garrison (Commercial)
  • Fletcher Jamison (Commercial)
  • William Riggin (Commercial)
  • Thomas Sheppard (Lawrence)
  • Elmer Bowman (Lawrence)
  • Joseph Miletta (Lawrence)
3.    Set forth in detail the pertinent facts surrounding the alleged violative action.

By way of background, P.L. 2007, c. 29, which became effective on January 1, 2008, was reform legislation "designed to ensure the system serves career public employees rather than political appointees" and to "cut out the entrenched core of abuse that has been corrupting our pension and benefits systems from within." (See Governor Corzine's press release, on-line here, issued when he signed the legislation into law).  One of the components of the new law, N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7.2,  excluded professional services contractors, such as municipal lawyers, architects and engineers from enrolling in the state's PERS pension system.

Yet, according to an August 23, 2010 letter (on-line here) from the New Jersey Division of Pension and Benefits, both Commercial and Lawrence Townships maintained special job titles (Lawrence Township used "Property Administrator" and Commercial Township used "Property Manager" and "Tax Lien Manager") and awarded those position in 2008 to Thomas E. Seeley, Esq., who served (and still serves) as Township Attorney for Townships.

The Division found that both Townships had engaged in a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the newly enacted pension reforms.  Indeed, the Division's letter, in reference to Lawrence Township, stated that "the Division concludes that the position of 'Property Administrator' is a position designed to disguise your true relationship, thereby facilitating your continued membership in the PERS."  According to the minutes of the Commercial Township Committee's August 21, 2008 public meeting (the relevant pages are on-line here), Township Administrator Judson Moore candidly admitted that the "Property Manager" position was being awarded to Mr. Seeley in direct response to the legislation to ensure that Mr. Seeley remained enrolled in the pension system."  ("Mr. Moore said part of it is due to new ordinance mandated by the state Determining Positions Eligible for the Defined Contribution Retirement Program. This is a new form of pension plan for certain municipal employees. Solicitors cannot be paid 'other expenses' and a salary, it either has to be by salary or by other expenses. What this does is take his salary and other expenses figures which were already allocated in the budget and placing it under one category, which is his salary for pension purposes.")

In sum, we assert that these elected officials acted with an intent to provide Mr. Seeley with an unwarranted financial benefit by creating a subterfuge designed to circumvent the pension reform legislation.  Accordingly, we believe that these officials should be penalized.

4. Indicate whether the complaint concerns the complainant in any way and what, if any, relationship the complainant has to the subject of the complaint.


Complainant has no interest in or relationship to this complaint greater than any other citizen or organization who wishes for all government officers and employees to comply fully with the Local Government Ethics Law.

5. Indicate any other action previously taken in an attempt to resolve the issue and indicate whether the issue is the subject of pending litigation elsewhere.

No other action has been taken previously in an attempt to resolve this issue and this issue is not the subject of any pending litigation. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I ask that you please acknowledge your receipt of this complaint within 30 days.

Sincerely,

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com