On July 28, 2023, after a four-year investigation, the Local Finance Board (LFB), the primary enforcer of the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL), levied fines totaling $1,750 against a former township committee member and fire commissioner based on voting to allocate public funds to a company he was employed by.
According to its Notice of Violation (NOV), the LFB found that David Deegan, who served as a Commissioner for Franklin Township (Gloucester County) Fire District No. 5, from May 2015 through March 2020, voted five times to authorize payment of public funds to FD Testing Services, LLC, a company owned by David Deegan III.
David Deegan III, according to the NOV, is Deegan’s son and was, during the relevant period, the Fire Chief of Star Cross Volunteer Fire Company which provides firematic services to Fire District No. 5. The NOV also recited that the elder Deegan reported FD Testing Services as a source of income in excess of $2,000 on his 2017, 2018 and 2019 Financial Disclosure Statements.
The NOV concluded that “David Deegan performed the services contracted by Star Cross Fire Company on behalf of FD Testing Services as an employee of FD Testing Services” and that Deegan’s votes as Fire Commissioner “to authorize payment to FD Testing Services when he was employed by FD Testing Services, when he performed the work as a representative of FD Testing Services, and when his son owned FD Testing Services constitute acts in his official capacity in any matter where he and a member of his immediate family has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment in violation of [the LGEL].”
The LFB fined Deegan $250 for each of his five votes for a total of $1,250. Additionally, Deegan was fined $250 each for two violations of other, related provisions of the LGEL dealing with “undertaking employment which might reasonably be expected to prejudice his independence of judgment” and for “using his public office to secure financial gain for himself or his immediate family member.” Deegan paid the $1,750 by way of an August 23, 2023 personal check. The NOV also noted that Deegan had a right to contest the charges and seek an administrative hearing. It is unknown at present whether he exercised that right.
During its probe, the LFB also found that Deegan, in his role of Franklin Township Committeeman, a position he held from 2017 through 2022, had not violated the LGEL by voting in favor of the 2017 and 2018 budgets which included his son’s salary as Fire Marshal and discretionary funds for Fire District No. 5, where he served as a Commissioner. The LFB noted that it has consistently believed that governing body members are permitted to vote on entire budgets, as these are essential for the municipality.
Additionally, the ethics complaint alleged that in December 2018, Deegan approached the municipal CFO, seeking the release of the Supplemental Fire Service Program District payments to Fire District No. 5 even though this funding hadn’t received the requisite approval from the Township Committee. The LFB, however, did not find any LGEL violations based on this claim.