According to a transcript of the June 10, 2015 Local Finance Board (LFB) meeting, Board member Ted Light praised the LFB’s staff for clearing 173 uninvestigated ethics complaints, filed by me and John Schmidt (who serves with me on the New Jersey Foundation of Open Government (NJFOG) Board of Directors) against 1,504 local officials across the state.  The praise was offered even though the complaints had not been fully investigated.

I just want to mention that you and the staff are doing an excellent job on completing these and clearing them up. I mean, they’ve  been hanging for so many years it’s nice to see them off the agenda docket.

According to LFB Chairman Tim Cunningham, Schmidt’s and my complaints had been allowed to languish and over the years became too old to investigate and enforce.  I’ve placed a copy of a recent complaint log on-line that has the dismissed complaints highlighted.  The officials named in those complaints have effectively been given a pass. (I have been complaining about the LFB’s complaint procedure since 2010.)

According to Cunningham:

There is significant number of historic or older financial disclosure statement complaints that have been filed against several parties. And that’s resulted in a backlog within the Local Finance Board’s ethics responsibilities. And the Board is today being asked to administratively close 173 complaints that were made against 1,504 local government officers and cover a time period from 2008 through 2013. 

The fact that the Department — the Division, I should say, has gone to an electronic filing system has really obviated the need for continued complaints by constituents and citizens. As this Board is well aware, notices of violation were recently sent out to thousands of non-filers for the 2014 cycle. Therefore, the idea of pursuing complaints from 2008 through, you know, you know, ’13 those complaints are rather historic at this point. People may no longer be in office. People may have moved. People may have passed away. And frankly, we know that to be the case. So now that we have a better system in place we feel it prudent — from the Division standpoint we feel it prudent to administratively close these out.

Cunningham’s statements suggest that the new electronic filing procedure is working well and is a step forward for the LFB.  Cunningham reported that 288 local government officials each submitted $100 checks for a total of $28,800.

But, a verbal report given during the meeting by LFB staff members Dana Jones revealed that of the thousands of violation notices issued, the recipients of 467 of them have appealed and that perhaps 200 more appeals will be received over the next few months.

According to an LFB document obtained via an OPRA request, the LFB decided to waive fines in 395 cases at its April 2015 and June 2015 meetings.  193 of those waivers were made because of municipal clerks’ errors on the rosters.  45 were waived because of claims of financial hardship, sickness or deaths in the family and 15 waivers were granted because the non-filers were deceased.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]