Friday, December 18, 2009

Ethics: The 2010 Issue?

With the advent of Chris Christie as governor, will ethical behavior become the standard for the next four years?

Certainly, as "The Soprano State" and the recent massive corruption scandal attest, there is much to be done to improve New Jersey's reputation as a steward of public resources. The 44-member corruption probe indicates examples of extreme self-interest at the public's expense, something the state can no longer tolerate. A lot of the corruption was related to development, and Jersey City last week received a report with eight recommendations to prevent unethical behavior.

Although the report focused on Jersey City, the recommendations can be applied generally to any municipality.

Plainfield has had a number of development proposals over the past four years, but only one , The Monarch, has materialized. Others have been rushed to approval or have proven to be unsuitable for the city. At this point, a visioning study is in the works to develop a broad consensus on what kind of development would be best for the city. While awaiting better economic conditions, city officials also have time to reflect on the best way to interact with developers.

The law firm that performed the audit for Jersey City, McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP, studied the development process and uncovered several ethical pitfalls to be avoided. Chief among them was dealing with developers one-on-one, outside an established process. To clarify the process for all, the firm recommended preparation of a guide outlining all its details, from where to start to what to present initially.

Plainfield previously had a deputy city administrator in charge of economic development, who could vet proposals for viability and explain the city's process for approvals. Since 2006, the process has been less clear, with multiple starting points. For example, one developer was introduced to the public in the context of the mayor's 100-day address, which gave the impression of being favored. Another developer showcased at public meetings turned out to be on the state debarment list.

A guide might keep the playing field level and avoid surprises.

Although it seems obvious, elected officials, land use board appointees and city staff should never accept anything from a developer. Ethics training for both officials and developers and sanctions for violations were recommended in the report. Roles of city departments should be spelled out in writing and developers should provide comprehensive background information. Even professional staff should avoid one-on-one meetings with developers and meetings should take place in official settings. Another recommendation for Jersey City was that meetings of its Tax Abatement Committee should be recorded and made public.

The Jersey City report cost $75,000 and called for specific action steps by the city and the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority. But ethics seminars and training are also offered by the League of Municipalities. Click here for an article on one such session.

However it is done, ethics awareness is likely to take on added importance when Chris Christie takes office. Even as the report was issued last week, more officials were indicted in the ongoing corruption investigation that resulted in 44 arrests, including many Jersey City officials. Click here to read press releases from the United States Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the institution where I teach, I had to attend an orientation workshop which included ethics training for new faculty. Ethics should be a part of the training of everyone in public service. One of the ironies is that if the city were to hire someone to do ethics training, it's entirely possible that the contract would be given to a "favored" consulting firm (a la pay to play).


10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rebecca will remember...ahem forget... that the New Dems held many lavish fundraiser soley to wring every penny from local vendors, developpers and engineering firms. Even Mr. Mapp gave up his home for this "favored" vendor selection process.

The message was clear :

If you pay, then you will pay.

Schoor De Palma paid. They played. T&M did not pay. They did not play.

But maybe I heard it all wrong. Maybe the New Dems never did any "pay to pay" vendor selection. Maybe there were no "favored" vendors with the New Dems. Maybe they awared contracts soley on the basis of ability, and not how much they contributed.

Now....where is that Kool Aid? That was good stuff.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have no idea what this anonymous individual is talking about. New Dems is a democratic political club, and there were no "lavish" political fundraisers held by New Democrats club, and no pay to play contracts on behalf of New Dems. This individual, who is attempting to smear the club's name, doesn't even have the decency to post his/her name. Oh, well--can't do anything about anonymous smears--the fact that there is no name attached to the poster will be enough to invalidate the smear. I think ethics training would be helpful for anyone in public service--that was my point.


P.S. I understand if you don't publish this reply--your blog (as well as mine and others( is often used for anonymous individuals to post vitriolic commentary, and shouldn't be used for this silliness. It would be great if the person sent me he/her comment--then I could properly refute it.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The objective seems not to be how many projects get built, but how many consultants get paid.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 11:15pm. I only wish that the New Dems had that kind of power that they could influence developers.

In fact, my understanding is that the Robinson-Briggs-Jerry Green group makes it so difficult for developers, who are not involved in the pay to play game, to come into Plainfield and get even the simplest plan off the ground.

Now that I would believe more since there is no development in Plainfield even though I know of several developers who have tried and walked away because there is no consistency in the building process other than kissing Jerry's ring.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice, Rebecca and the New Dems will deny any fundraisers. How decietful. What they did was disguise the fundraising.

You have to follow the money...! With the New Dems it was very tricky.

But if you follow the money - Schoor De Palma will show up donating money to organizations set up to fund New Dem candidates.

In return, Schoor De Palma were then given large engineering contracts. New Dem council votes "Yes" without a single question.

If they paid, they played.

Rebecca can deny it all she want.

Just follow the money..... The truth is out there. But you will not get it from Rebecca.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

1:23, why don't you just spell it out for us in exact detail? Names, dates, amounts, etc. so we can understand your allegations. Did you make an ethics complaint?

2:27 PM  

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