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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Possible Conflict of Interest in Middletown and Union Beach Municipal Courts

UPDATE: 

By letter of April 16, 2013, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct found that Judge Thompson did not violate an Canons of Judicial Ethics.  The letter is on-line here.
 ---------------------------------
April 11, 2013

Hon. Gerald P. Scharfenberger, Mayor, and members of the
Middletown Township Committee
via e-mail only to HBrunt@middletownnj.org

RE:    Possible conflict of interest regarding Municipal Judge Richard B. Thompson, Esq. and Municipal Prosecutor Gerald Massell, Esq.

Dear Mayor Scharfenberger and Committee members:

This is in follow-up to my May 12, 2012 letter, a copy of which is on-line here.   Unfortunately, I received no response from you (nor did I receive any response from Judge Colannino) so I thought that I'd check back with you in hopes that you would grant me the favor of a response--even if it is to simply inform me that you're not willing to entertain any further correspondence on the matter.

As you are aware, Richard B. Thompson, Esq. and Gerald Massell, Esq. serve, respectively, as the Judge and Prosecutor of the Middletown Municipal Courts. In my May 12, 2012 letter, I provided you unverified information that I had obtained from a letter to the editor published in May 11, 2012 Atlantic Highlands Herald.  I have since done my own research and have determined the following to be true.

1.  According to the New Jersey Lawyers Diary and Manual, both Thompson and Massell maintain private law offices at 222 Highway 35 in Middletown.  Their Diary entries on-line here.

2. According to the New Jersey Association of County Tax Boards' web site, the property at 222 Highway 35 is owned by Elizabeth Massell of 34 Concord Court in Red Bank, New Jersey.  The "property card" taken from the NJACT's site is on-line here.

3. According to Prosecutor Massell's Financial Disclosure Statement (on-line here), his wife is Maureen T. Massell, disproving the suggestion in my May 12, 2012 letter that Prosecutor Massell's wife owns 222 Highway 35.

4. According to an obituary published in the August 5, 2011 Asbury Park Press (on-line here), the late Elizabeth Massell, who was presumably the same person who owned 222 Highway 35, was Prosecutor Massell's mother.

I am not informed whether Elizabeth Massell had made a will or whether her estate has been distributed.  Thus, I don't know which of her heirs has an ownership interest in 222 Highway 35.  But, since parents typically make their children heirs of their estates, I cannot rule out the possibility that Prosecutor Massell (and, perhaps his brother Middletown Committeeman Stephen Massell) currently has an ownership interest in 222 Highway 35.  Such would make Prosecutor Massell Judge Thompson's landlord, which I believe would constitute a conflict of interest.

Would you please inquire as to the manner in which Elizabeth Massell's estate was probated or administered?  If it turns out that members of Prosecutor Massell's family (and not the Prosecutor himself) owns or controls 222 Highway 35, I believe that this financial connection still constitutes a conflict even if it is not as stark as the conflict that would arise if Prosecutor Massell himself owns or controls 222 Highway 35

I am sending a copy of this letter to Mayor Paul J. Smith and members of the Union Beach Borough Council since Judge Thompson and Prosecutor Massell also serve in that municipal court.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


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


cc. Mayor Paul J. Smith and members of the Union Beach Borough Council
Via e-mail only to ubboroclerk@optonline.net


Monday, April 8, 2013

Why was Ronald C. Aron, who serves as both an Oaklyn Borough Councilman and a Haddon Township Police Officer, busted from sergeant to patrol officer?

According to his Financial Disclosure Statement, Oaklyn Borough (Camden County) Councilman Ronald C. Aron also serves as a Police Sergeant in nearby Haddon Township.   A lawsuit and settlement agreement that I received by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request shows that a March 23, 2010 administrative hearing found that Aron had violated police department regulations.  Aron challenged the discipline in an April 5, 2010 lawsuit (Aron v. Township of Haddon, Docket No. CAM-L-1759-10) and then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court (Aron v. Township of Haddon, Docket No. A-4407-10T4). 

In November 2012, Aron settled his lawsuit and appeal with the Township and agreed to: a) plead guilty to "conduct detrimental to the good order of the police department," b) accept a 10 day unpaid, disciplinary suspension, c) forfeit 80 hours of accrued sick time and d) accept a "one year demotion from the rank of sergeant to patrol officer" which had already been served. 

Haddon officials have been mum on the nature of the conduct that landed Aron in disciplinary hot water.  I am attempting to learn those details because I think that Oaklyn voters need to know should Aron decide to run for reelection.  But, Haddon officials will likely hold to their position that the privacy interests of a disciplined police officer who also serves an elected official outweigh the public's right to know.

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Police Accountability Project
Somerset, New Jersey