Posted on

Village of Ridgewood officials must steer clear of conflicts of Interest

3 amigos in action Ridgewood NJ

Officials must steer clear of conflicts

OCTOBER 22, 2015    LAST UPDATED: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2015, 12:31 AM

Village officials must steer clear of conflicts

To the Editor:

On July 3, 2013, Paul Aronsohn and his wife, Gwenn Hauck, and Albert Puciarelli and a guest, attended a fundraiser for Chris Christie at the Bank of America building. Each was comped at least $1,000/person (an item of value) by an event host, John Saraceno, who also happened to have an application before the Planning Board — The Enclave — now being voted on by the council as part of B-3-R rezoning.

Chapter 3; Section 53 of the Village Code, entitled conflicts of interest and penalties, states:

An elected official:

Shall not: Accept or solicit anything of value as consideration for or in connection with the discharge of his official duties.

Shall not: Accept any gift or gratuity, whether in the form of service, loan or promise or in any other form, from any person, firm or corporation which would tend to influence them in the discharge of their official duties.

Penalties for violating the ordinance include: suspension, removal from office, jail, fine or community service.

At a meeting on July 10, 2013 (per the minutes), Mayor Aronsohn asked Village Attorney Matt Rogers to look into the gift law related to the comped tickets. On July 11, 2013, Rogers was quoted in The Ridgewood News: Attending the fundraiser “falls outside the village’s gift ordinance” and was “completely appropriate” for the elected officials to attend. “It would have been a disservice if they did not attend.” There appears to have been no further discussion in the public record thereafter.

In his Ridgewood News reply, Rogers did not address the conflict of interest ordinance, which is Chapter 3, choosing only to focus on the appropriateness of attending the fundraiser (attending the event and accepting an item of value are separate issues). He is correct that it would have been a disservice for the council not to attend – provided they paid for it. Since it appears they did not pay, “accepting an item of value” becomes the issue; falling under the conflict of interest ordinance. Prima facie this looks to be a conflict of interest.

Of further concern is there may be other “business relationships” which may affect council member’s impartiality. These include a working relationship that Mayor Aronsohn and Pucciarelli have with Saraceno — as members of the Ridgewood Library Board of Trustees.

At a July 2015 council meeting, Aronsohn, Pucciarelli and Hauck voted in favor of introducing an ordinance for the B-3-R zone (where the Enclave is situated).

As a member of the zoning board, in order to steer clear of any conflicts of interest, we are requested by legal counsel to recuse ourselves from any personal or business relationships we might have with applicants. The council should be held to the same standards that other village sanctioned boards are held to.

The people of Ridgewood deserve an answer from the village attorney as to whether council members have a conflict of interest in this important issue facing us. If the attorney is unwilling to examine this, have an independent third party do so.

Jeff Voigt