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After a four and a half year investigation, the Local Finance Board (LFB), the chief enforcer of New Jersey’s Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL), found that two members of the Sayreville Borough Council (one of whom is now the mayor) violated the LGEL by voting to declare vacancies in the borough’s police department while their blood relatives were on the eligible list to fill those vacancies.

On May 1, 2017, Sayreville Borough Councilmember (now Mayor) Victoria Kilpatrick and Councilmember Mary Novak voted to declare five vacancies in the Borough’s police department while they both had blood relatives–-Novak’s son Charles Novak and Kilpatrick’s brother Robert Deuel-–on the certified list of eligible candidates from which those vacant police positions would be filled. In nearly identical Notices of Violation issued on December 15, 2021 (Novak’s is here and Kilpatrick’s is here), the LFB found that the votes violated the ethics law because both officials “had a direct or indirect financial involvement” in the outcome of the votes “that might reasonably be expected to impair [their] objectivity or independence of judgment in violation of subsection (d) of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5.”

The officials were fined $100 each but the fines were waived “in light of [their] reasonable reliance on the advice of” Borough Attorney Michael DuPont who had erroneously opined that their votes on the matter did not constitute an LGEL violation. According to N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.10, the LFB is limited to penalizing LGEL violators to fines of “not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00.”

The votes were controversial because by declaring the five vacancies, the Council forced itself to fill those vacancies within a 45-day period from its then current eligibility list that contained no military veterans. Had a new list been created that included eligible veterans, the priority accorded to those veterans would have likely moved Novak’s son and Kilpatrick’s brother lower on the list.

In their June 22, 2017 complaint to the LFB, complainants John Paff (the author of this article) and the New Jersey Libertarian Party argued that the votes violated subsection (c) of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5 because they constituted at least an attempt by Kilpatrick and Novak to “use [their] official position[s] to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for [themselves] or others” by allowing their relatives to keep their higher position on the list by keeping veterans off the list. The LFB however, found that neither official violated subsection (c) of the ethics law.

As with all adverse ethics findings, the LFB advised Kilpatrick and Novak of their right to contest the finding by requesting an administrative hearing. The LFB’s final decision will not be issued until after the two officials, if they choose to contest the findings, have had their cases heard by an Administrative Law Judge.

According to the Notices of Violation, Novak had participated in the LFB’s investigation while “Kilpatrick did not respond to the [LFB’s] Notice of Investigation.”

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