Ordinance No. 10-27

Introduced: December 16, 2010
Public Hearing:
Status: Tabled

An ordinance to establish conflict of interest guidelines for Vernon Township public officials

Conflict of Interest Ordinance. This ordinance is to establish a conflict of interest guidelines, to the proper operation of government requires that Public Officials be independent, impartial, and responsible to their constituents, that public office not be used for personal gain, that no public official shall gain personal or financial advantage from his or her work.

WHEREAS the Township of Vernon to ensure that the business of this municipality will be conducted in such a way that no public official of the municipality will gain a personal or financial advantage from his or her work for the municipality and so that the public trust in municipal officials will be preserved.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT ORDAINED by the Mayor and Township Council of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, as follows:

Section 1. Following definitions shall apply:

  1. “Conflict of interest” means a direct personal or financial interest of a public officer, his or her spouse, household member, business associate, employer or employee, in the outcome of a cause, proceeding, application or any other matter pending before the officer or before the public body in which he or she holds office or is employed. “Conflict of interest” does not arise in the case of votes or decisions on matters in which the public officer has a personal or financial interest in the outcome no greater than that of other persons generally affected by the decision.
  2. “Emergency” means an imminent threat or peril to the public health, safety or welfare.
  3. “Official act or action” means any discretionary legislative, administrative or judicial act performed by any elected or appointed officer or employee while acting on behalf of the municipality.
  4. “Public body” means a municipality and its departments, boards, councils, commissions, committees.
  5. “Public interest” means an interest of the community as a whole, conferred generally upon all residents of the municipality.
  6. “Public officer” or “public official” means a person elected or appointed to perform executive, administrative, legislative or quasi-judicial functions for a public body.

Section 2. Disqualification.

  1. A public officer shall not participate in any official action if he or she has a conflict of interest in the matter under consideration.
  2. A public officer shall not personally or through any member of his or her household, business associate, employer or employee represent, appear for, or negotiate in a private capacity on behalf of any person or organization in any cause, proceeding, application or other matter pending before the public body in which the officer holds office or is employed.
  3. In the case of a public officer who is an appointee, the person or public body which appointed that public officer shall have the authority to order that officer to recuse him or herself from the matter.

Section 3. Disclosure.

  1. A public officer who has reason to believe that he or she has or may have a conflict of interest but believes that he or she is able to act fairly, objectively and in the public interest in spite of the conflict of interest shall, prior to participating in any official action on the matter, prepare a statement describing the matter under consideration, the nature of the potential conflict of interest and why he or she believes that he or she is able to act in the matter fairly, objectively and in the public interest.
  2. In the case of a public officer who is an elected member of a board, commission or other body, the remaining members of that body shall have the authority to inquire of the officer about a possible conflict of interest and to suggest or recommend that the member recuse him or herself from the matter. If the member believes that he or she does not have a conflict of interest or believes that he or she is able to act fairly, objectively and in the public interest in spite of an existing conflict of interest, the member shall, prior to participating in the matter, prepare a statement describing the matter under consideration, the nature of the potential conflict of interest and why he or she believes that he or she is able to act in the matter fairly, objectively and in the public interest.
  3. The statement required by subsections (a) and (b) above shall be signed by the officer and filed as part of the minutes of the meeting of the public body in which the officer holds office.

Section 4. Creation of an Ethics Committee.

  1. The council shall solicit volunteers from among the registered voters who are willing to serve on an ethics committee for a period of one year.
  2. The members of the ethics committee shall serve without compensation for their services. The committee shall not incur any expenses in the performance of its duties without the approval of the legislative body.
  3. The municipal clerk shall serve as clerk for the ethics committee but shall not be a voting member of the committee. If the matter under consideration involves a complaint against the clerk, the chair of the council or his/her designee shall act as clerk for the committee in that matter.
  4. The committee shall elect a chair and shall establish rules of procedure.

Section 5. Hearing before the Ethics Committee.

  1. Any resident of the municipality who believes that an officer should recuse him or herself from a matter because of a conflict of interest or that the officer should provide a disclosure statement regarding his or her conflict of interest in the matter may file a complaint with the clerk of the ethics committee.
  2. Upon receipt of the complaint, the clerk shall set a date for a hearing by the committee as soon as possible. Personal notice shall be given to each member of the committee, including each alternate, to the complainant and to the person complained about. Notice of the hearing shall be posted in at least three public places within the municipality and shall be published in the newspaper of record at least seven days prior to the hearing date.
  3. The committee shall consider the matter at a public hearing. Oral testimony shall be taken under oath. The complainant and respondent shall have a right to present evidence personally or by other witnesses, to examine and cross-examine witnesses and to be represented by counsel. The hearing shall be recorded.
  4. At the conclusion of the hearing, the committee shall go into deliberative session in order to consider all the evidence. The committee shall issue a written decision as to whether the official shall be required to recuse him or herself from the matter and state the reasons for that decision.

Section 6. Enforcement.

  1. Refusal to comply with the decision of the ethics committee shall be considered a violation of this ordinance. The legislative body or the ethics committee, acting on behalf of the municipality, may seek injunctive relief in superior court which may include, but not be limited to, an order to negate any vote or other action taken by the officer in the matter.
  2. At a public drawing, ten names shall be drawn at random from the list of volunteers. The first five of those names shall be the regular members of the ethics committee and the remaining five names shall be alternate members of the ethics committee. The alternates shall be numbered six through ten, in the order that their names were drawn. The list of members and alternates (with their numbers) shall be filed with the town clerk along with the date they were selected and the date on which their terms shall expire.
  3. If one of the regular members cannot participate in a particular matter, the first alternate shall fill in and, if that person cannot participate, the second alternate shall fill in, and so forth through the list of alternates until a five.
  4. In addition to any other remedies provided by law, a public officer who violates this ordinance may be publicly censured by the ethics committee.

Section 7. Exception. The provisions shall not apply if the legislative body of the municipality determines that an emergency exists and that actions of the public body otherwise could not take place. In such cases, a public officer who has reason to believe he or she has a conflict of interest shall disclose such conflict.

Section 8. All prior ordinances or resolutions or portions thereof the Township Council of the Township of Vernon inconsistent herewith be and are hereby repealed.

Section 9. This ordinance shall become effective upon adoption and publication as required by law.

Section 10. If any clause, section or provision of this ordinance is declared invalid by a Court of competent jurisdiction, such provision shall be deemed separate, distinct and independent provision and shall not affect the validity of the remaining portion hereof.

Section 11. Potential or actual conflict of interest, personal financial interest.

  1. At a meeting, no elective or appointive officer, acting in an official capacity, or employee of the town, while engaged in his or her duties, shall raise the issue of, place on the agenda, participate in a discussion of, or take part in a discussion concerning any business of the town relating to his/her business or personal financial interests, or those of a spouse, be they direct or indirect, to the degree that said interests exceed those of taxpayers generally.
  2. Personal and business interests shall include direct or indirect ownership of land, stock, property, materials, supplies or services.
  3. Discussions of salary and benefits shall be exempt from this prohibition.
  4. Any officer or employee having such an interest shall immediately make said interest known publicly.
  5. Any officer who willfully conceals such an interest, or willfully violates any requirement of this section shall forfeit said office or position.
  6. Any contract, sale or action taken in violation of this section shall be voidable by the Council.
  7. Officers of the town may buy/sell goods and services from/to the town subject to the restrictions above, provided said procurement is done in accordance within appropriate ordinance and/or state law.
  8. The ethics board may require public disclosure of assets or financial interest, in a form they may prescribe, of any elected or appointed official as part of an investigation into matters of conflict of interest, or for the purposes of general investigation. Failure to disclose or incomplete or falsified disclosure may be cause for removal.
  9. No officer shall devote any town property or labor to private use, except as may be provided by law or ordinance.
  10. No public officer or public official may enter into a binding contract for the acquisition of an interest in land or sale of land to the Township.
  11. “Conflict of interest” does not include a financial interest which is no greater than that of other persons generally affected by the outcome of the matter.