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NJ Open Government Notes

State agency holds that Bridgeton Councilman violated Local Government Ethics Law.

On March 19, 2021, the Local Finance Board (LFB), the chief enforcer of New Jersey’s Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL), found that a Bridgeton City Councilman violated the state’s conflict-of-interest laws when he voted in 2017 to sell several parcels of City real estate to a corporation while he simultaneously served on the board of one of the corporation’s “partners.”

In its Notice of Violation, the LFB found that Councilman James Curtis Edwards “voted yea on Resolution 43-17 . . . concerning the River Grove Housing Project while he was also serving on the Board of Gateway Community Action Partnership a/k/a/ Tri-County Community Action Agency, a partner in the River Grove Housing Project.” The LFB found that the vote “constitute[d] a matter where [Edwards] had a direct or indirect personal or financial involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment, in violation of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(d).”

The LFB fined Edwards $100 but gave him an opportunity to appeal the fine within 30 days. The LGEL states that officials who violate the ethics law may be fined “not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00.”

On the same date, the LFB also dismissed a similar complaint against former City Councilman Jack Surrency. Surrency, now a Cumberland County Commissioner, was investigated for voting in favor of the same resolution while he simultaneously served as Chairman of Complete Care Health Network which was “an alleged partner of Gateway Community Action Partnership a/k/a ‘Fri-County Community Action Agency.” The LFB found that while Complete Care did engage in “occasional professional collaborations” with Gateway/Tri-County, those collaborations were not substantial enough to “reasonably be expected to impair [Surrency’s] objectivity or independence of judgment.”

The investigations into Edwards’ and Surrency’s conduct arose out of an October 24, 2017 complaint filed by the author (John Paff) and the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project. A copy of the complaint, with links to all the exhibits, is on-line here.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to paff@pobox.com