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


9 thoughts on “Village of Ridgewood officials must steer clear of conflicts of Interest

  1. The current council members response to this issue has been that Bernie and Tom attended this event too. The important point is that Bernie and Tom did not vote yes for an ordinance put in front of them, as our current council did, hence conflict of interest. Our attorney should have advised all council at that time to not accept free tickets. I do think our town reps should go to an event like this out of respect to our governor. No, they shouldn’t pay out of pocket but as village representatives to the Village, the village should cover these costs (as a courtesy to the Village the event planner could offer a discount). Don’t civil servants request reimbursements for out of pocket expenses incurred related to village business?

  2. Thank you Jeff Voigt! You clearly explain what so many of us agree with!

  3. The stooges do not care!

  4. What about the “in kind” campaign contribution Mr. Aronsohn accepted from Mr. Saraceno?

  5. The Record had an editorial, not a letter to the editor, but a full-on editorial chastising them for accepting these comp tickets. This entire episode was wrong wrong WRONG and it is great that Mr. Voigt has brought it up once again.

  6. Agree totally with Mr. Voigt except on one point. It was not appropriate for the Village Counsel to attend a private fund raising event in their official capacities, .i.e, to meet and greet the Governor on behalf of the Village, even if they were paying their own way because the event was a political fund raiser that was not open to the public.

    Attorney Rogers was entirely wrong on this point. In fact it was an extreme dis-service to the Villagers for the Council to appear as they did. Our local government is non-partisan and unless they are going to attend every political fund raising event in town, they can not attend any such event in their official capacity. Of course, like the rest of us, they can attend any event they want to attend in their private capacity and at their own expense.

  7. Let’s also not forget the clear conflict of interest that two of our Council members have with Valley Hospital. Mr Pucciarelli’s firm has done work for them and Mrs. Hauck was one of their chief fundraisers for several years. While the Deputy Mayor recused himself from a vote that never came to the Council, Mrs Hauck has consistently refused to do so. Now that Valley has sued the Village, both of these Council members could be in a position to influence a settlement with Valley. Most concerning is that the Village has handled the Valley lawsuit completely behind closed doors without even a statement or public comment from our Mayor or Council.

    I have particular respect for Mrs Hauck’s allegiance to Valley. She has been public and passionate in her support and very successful as the Chairperson of the Valley Ball fundraising event on multiple occasions. One would imagine that this lawsuit puts her in a very difficult position. She was elected to serve and defend the Village of Ridgewood yet has this long standing and well-documented affiliation with Valley. This is as clear a conflict of interest that can possibly exist. There are many that are eager to hear Mrs. Hauck’s stance on the Valley lawsuit and her promise to recuse herself from any future dealings, votes or negotiations on the Valley Hospital expansion and lawsuit.

  8. Matt Rogers is not the VILLAGE Attorney. No. He is the VILLAGE COUNCIL attorney. Big difference. He is paid to advise the five of them and get them out of trouble when needed and basically he looks out for their best interests, not the best interest of Ridgewood.

  9. Why is ANYTHING being done “behind closed doors” regarding Valley.? I would think that if Hauck and Pucciarelli are even present that it would, at the very least, be cause for concern from a legal standpoint.
    By the way, someone on the Council might want to bring up the non-profit issue before it gets conveniently forgotten.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *