Category Archives: ethics

Ethics Board Can Head Off Another Operation Bid Rig

The following commenatry appeared int he Asbury Park Press yesterday. It was written by Arthur Z. Kamin of Fair Haven who is an independent journalist and who has written about Monmouth County politics before.

In his commentary he states that the idea for the newly created Monmouth County Ethics Board is a good one that is long over due and that and ethic board could prevent another Operation Bid Rig from happening again in Monmouth County:

Now that the election is over, the five-member Monmouth County Board of Freeholders — in a split vote along political lines — finally adopted a strong ethics structure to give the county the watchdog agency it needs to help ensure honest government. The long-overdue action came Tuesday night. Three Democrats voted for the resolution. The Republicans opposed it.

The two GOP freeholders had been battling efforts by the Democrats to establish an ethics board that would promulgate and administer a county ethics code. The recommendation for the board and code originated with a blue-ribbon ethics review committee appointed by the freeholders.

Freeholder Robert D. Clifton was the biggest stumbling block, arguing that the ethics board would be too powerful and too costly to run. Freeholder Lillian G. Burry picked up the chant, claiming it would create another level of government that the county can’t afford.

What they did not say is that many Republicans still don’t like to bring up the touchy subject of county ethics because it dredges up memories of the Operation Bid Rig scandal four years ago when more than two dozen Monmouth County and other officials were arrested in an FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office corruption sweep.

That sweep also netted the late longtime former Republican Freeholder Director Harry Larrison Jr. The freeholder board was all Republican at the time and county government was loaded with patronage, cronyism and favoritism.

It was a shameful period in county history. And Monmouth County still bears the scars of those terrible days. The county, as a result of that nightmare, is still referred to statewide as “Hudson County with lawns.”

To prevent another Operation Bid Rig from happening and to establish an ethics agency with teeth, the county appointed a first-rate ethics review committee that carefully examined existing policies, procedures and an employee manual. It concluded: “The existing structure is in need of revision.”

Thus, the freeholder majority was wise to approve the recommendations of the ethics review committee, including the creation of a six-member nonpartisan, independent ethics board that would serve without compensation. Monmouth County residents should be served well by this arrangement.


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Filed under Asbury Park Press, ethics, Monmouth County, Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Operation Bid Rig

The Overlooked Story of The Week In Monmouth County: Freeholders Create Ethics Board

With all the of the attention being given to Governor-Elect Chris Christie this past week, it is no wonder that one of the biggest stories coming out of Monmouth County last week was the creation of an Ethics Board by the Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The Democratic majority voted to create this watchdog panel over Republican opposition, who thought that it was not necessary.

The creation of this ethics panel fulfills a pledge by the democrats to bring responsible and honest government back to Monmouth County four years after Operation Bid Rid rocked the foundation of the County.
Republican opposition to the ethics board is astounding considering that Operation Bid Rig happened under their watch and along with about two dozen county officials that were arrested, long time Freeholder Director and “Godfather” of the Monmouth County GOP Harry Larrison Jr., was also indicted for corruption. At the time the Freeholder Board was governed by all Republicans and the county government was comprised of people who owed their positions to patronage, cronyism and favoritism.
So it is no wonder that Republicans Rob Clifton and Lillian Burry, think that the idea of an ethic board is a bad one. They say that it would be too costly and have too much power over county operations that would be better left to the County Prosecutor or State Attorney General, preferring instead to leave the ethics policing to the Freeholders themselves.
Just as astonishing is the fact that the Asbury Park Press is not totally on board with the idea of an ethics board being created.
After all, it’s not like they did such a bad job watching over themselves before, do ya think?
The ethics board is a good idea, one that should have happened a couple of years ago but the County GOP was and still is against the idea, that someone else will be watching over there shoulder.
It will be interesting to see come January if the newly formed, GOP controlled, Freeholder Board will rescind the resolution that created the Ethics Board. It wouldn’t suprise me in the least if they did.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, ethics, Monmouth County, Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders

NEW CHRISTIE BOMBSHELL-NYT: Christie May Have Gotten Improper Aid

The New York Times – By DAVID M. HALBFINGER

When news broke in August that the former United States attorney, Christopher J. Christie, had lent $46,000 to a top aide in the federal prosecutor’s office, he said he was merely helping a friend in need. He also said the aide, Michele Brown, had done nothing to help his gubernatorial campaign.

But interviews with federal law enforcement officials suggest that Ms. Brown used her position in two significant and possibly improper ways to try to aid Mr. Christie in his run for governor.

In March, when Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s campaign requested public records about Mr. Christie’s tenure as prosecutor, Ms. Brown interceded to oversee the responses to the inquiries, taking over for the staff member who normally oversaw Freedom of Information Act requests, according to federal law enforcement officials in Newark and Washington. The requested information included records about Mr. Christie’s travel and expenses, along with Ms. Brown’s travel records.

In mid-June, when F.B.I. agents and prosecutors gathered to set a date for the arrests of more than 40 targets of a corruption and money-laundering probe, Ms. Brown alone argued for the arrests to be made before July 1. She later told colleagues that she wanted to ensure that the arrests occurred before Mr. Christie’s permanent successor took office, according to three federal law enforcement officials briefed on the conversation, presumably so that Mr. Christie would be given credit for the roundup.

The federal law enforcement officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were barred from speaking on the record.

Ms. Brown declined to be interviewed for this story. In an e-mail message to The New York Times, she called the allegations “outrageous and inaccurate,” but declined to answer further questions. Through a spokesman, Mr. Christie stood by his earlier assertions that Ms. Brown had not assisted his campaign in any way.

News of Mr. Christie’s loan to Ms. Brown broke in August, dealing a blow to his candidacy, and he apologized for failing to report it on his tax returns and ethics filings.

Less than two weeks later, Justice Department officials told Mr. Christie’s interim replacement, Ralph Marra, to remove Ms. Brown from acting as coordinator of the Freedom of Information Act requests about Mr. Christie’s tenure because of the obvious conflict of interest, according to a federal law enforcement official briefed on the communications. Ms. Brown resigned from the prosecutor’s office the same day, the official said.

She took a job at a law firm with close ties to Mr. Christie — a firm that represented one of five companies identified as targets in his office’s investigation of kickbacks among makers of artificial hips and knees. Ms. Brown had led the case and, with Mr. Christie, negotiated a settlement in which the company paid a fine and avoided criminal charges.

Allegations that Mr. Christie played politics as a prosecutor have dogged him; reports that he discussed a run for governor with Karl Rove in 2006 led Democrats to assert he had violated the Hatch Act, which forbids candidates from “testing the waters” for a run for office.

The possibility that Ms. Brown may have helped Mr. Christie’s campaign from inside the United States attorney’s office casts a new light on their relationship and on the prosecutor’s office. Federal law and Justice Department policy prohibit prosecutors from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”

The arrests of 44 people in the corruption and money-laundering case on July 23 drew national attention and put a spotlight on New Jersey’s reputation for corruption. Mr. Christie had built his reputation battling public corruption, and the case served to remind voters of his record and underscore that corruption remained a persistent statewide problem, one that could require a new governor to root out.

As it turned out, there was no need to hurry up the corruption arrests to ensure that they would redound to Mr. Christie’s credit: the Obama appointee who replaced him, Paul J. Fishman, was not installed until last Wednesday.

Mr. Christie has said he and his wife are close friends of Ms. Brown and her husband. The couples live a few hundred yards apart in Mendham, N.J.

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Filed under Chris Christie, ethics, Freedom of Information Act, Gov. Jon Corzine, Michele A. Brown, repayment of loans, The New York Times, US Attorneys Office

County Needs Ethics Board Now; Why Does Clifton Oppose Ethics Panel ?


Two River Times

By Arthur Z. Kamin

It is sad to watch members of the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders squabble over how to get a much-needed county governmental ethics structure up and running. At the heart of it, Republican Freeholder Robert D. Clifton seems to want to forget the GOP-dominated Operation Bid Rig scandal four years ago and refuses to admit that the corruption stench of that time still hangs over Freehold.

The irony is that Clifton, a longtime Republican insider, is not a babe-in-the-political-woods and should have known what was taking place during those terrible days when more than two dozen Monmouth County and other officials were arrested in an FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office corruption sweep. Scooped up in that sweep was the late longtime former Republican Board of Freeholders Director Harry Larrison Jr., charged with taking bribes. It was a shameful period in county history.

And where was Clifton when former Freeholder Amy H. Handlin, now a Republican assemblywoman from the 13th legislative district, became a trailblazer for ethical reform in county government? She fought a brave battle – even going so far as to rightly urge that Larrison’s name be removed from Brookdale Community College’s tainted Larrison Hall campus building. Clifton was silent.

Now he is the major stumbling block, as the county appointed a special Ethics Review Committee that carefully examined existing policies, procedures and an employee manual concluding, “The existing structure is in need of revision.”

To his credit, Democrat Freeholder John D’Amico Jr. urged that the freeholders promptly release the report to the public. Clifton was opposed. He attempted to keep the document under wraps, not wanting to bring up reminders of the old days. How’s that for governmental transparency? But the excuse became an argument over what should be or should not be released from freeholder executive sessions.

Here is the makeup of the bipartisan pro bono ethics review committee: Retired former New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice James R. Assail; retired former Superior Court Judge Alexander D. Lehrer; and former Freeholder Director Thomas J. Powers And here is what the committee unanimously recommended to the freeholders: “the adoption of a strong county ethics code and the establishment of a nonpartisan, independent ethics board.”

The committee did not recommend the establishment of an Office of Inspector General even though recognizing the value of it could bring in the search for an ethics watchdog and higher ethical standards in county government.

Creating an inspector general’s office would be costly and – the way things often have been carried on in Monmouth County – it could lead to another bureaucracy with cronyism and patronage jobs. “But during these challenging economic times it cannot be justified,” the committee stated.

That leaves the ethics board with wide-ranging powers backed up by what should be a no-nonsense code of ethics that would include provisions pertaining to such areas as conflicts of interest, activity that gives the appearance of impropriety, gifts, lobbying of public officials, nepotism, incompatible employment, the procurement process, penalties, ethics education, and financial disclosures.

The ethics board would be able to issue subpoenas, receive complaints, and hold code violation hearings. It could forward information to law enforcement authorities. It would enforce the code and impose or recommend penalties for violations. It would have the teeth to get an ethics job done….

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Filed under ethics, Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Operation Bid Rig, Two River Times

AP: GOP NJ governor candidate’s spending questioned

By ANGELA DELLI SANTI (AP)

TRENTON, N.J. — The Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, who has campaigned on a platform of ethical integrity and cutting government waste, regularly spent beyond federal guidelines on business travel while U.S. attorney, records show.
The newly released travel records show that Chris Christie occasionally billed taxpayers more than $400 a night for stays in luxury hotels and exceeded the government’s hotel allowance on 14 of 16 business trips he took in 2008.

“Generally, U.S. attorneys, assistant U.S. attorneys and all federal staff stay within the government rate,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz. “The government rate is not a suggestion, it’s a guideline.”

Christie said he stayed in more expensive hotels only when cheaper ones weren’t available.

“We always went for government rates first,” he said. “I don’t think there were a lot of stays in five-star hotels over seven years.”

The travel records date to when he was sworn in as U.S. attorney in 2002. They were obtained this week by the campaign of Christie’s Democratic opponent, Gov. Jon Corzine, under the Freedom of Information Act.

The AP has sought the same records, but the request was made later than the one by the governor’s office and hasn’t been fulfilled.

The limits are updated regularly to reflect inflation, seasonal price jumps and other economic realities of business travel, Schwartz said. Federal employees who exceed the allowance are required to explain why, though the justification merely requires an extra layer of approval that is routinely granted.

On trips in 2007 and 2008, his top deputy, Michele Brown, also exceeded the guidelines after Christie approved her requests for rooms in the same five-star hotels where he was booked.

The vouchers show Christie and Brown stayed at the NineZero Hotel in Boston on Oct. 16, 2007 and each billed taxpayers $449 plus taxes and fees for their rooms, more than double the government allowance for a Boston hotel room at the time, according to a General Services Administration travel reimbursement table.

A liberal ethics group called Christie’s travel history “astonishing,” noting a stay at the Four Seasons in Washington, one of the city’s best hotels.

“I’m sure he knew better, and he chose to ignore the rules,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “There is never a situation where the only available hotel in Washington is the Four Seasons. If you stay there, you’ve chosen luxury and you’ve chosen to ignore the rules.”

The ethics group has also filed a complaint alleging that Christie violated federal law by discussing a possible run for governor while he was U.S. attorney, but federal officials declined to investigate because Christie is no longer a federal employee.

The former federal prosecutor submitted a waiver for the room in Boston, as required. In it, he requested additional lodging expenses because there were no rooms available at the $203 per night government rate “due to a high demand for rooms.”
Christie made a mortgage loan to Brown five days after they returned from Boston, on Oct. 22, 2007. He failed to report the loan on federal ethics forms and on his 2007 federal income tax returns, omissions he later described as a mistake. Brown has since resigned and joined a private law firm.

Christie is locked in a tight race against Corzine, an unpopular governor bidding for a second term, and independent Chris Daggett. Christie has campaigned on his record of putting corrupt politicians in jail.

Records turned over so far show Christie exceeded the government lodging allowance on 23 of 30 business trips taken between 2004 and 2008. In some cases, his travel vouchers were approved first by Brown, then certified by a third person. Christie, who was Brown’s supervisor, signed off on her travel, either in advance or when she submitted vouchers, the records show. The vouchers were all certified by a third party.

Christie’s hotel tab exceeded $400 per night on four trips. A night at the Four Seasons in Washington in October 2008 cost taxpayers $475; five nights in London were $401 each for Christie and Brown, the records show.

The federal government policy manual states that employees “must exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on a personal basis.” The guideline says the agency will not pay for “luxury accommodations” or unjustified services.

Democrats were quick to condemn the travel expenses.

“It is outrageous that Mr. Christie made taxpayers foot the bill for his excessive and luxurious travel accommodations around the United States and to foreign countries, while his only job responsibilities were in New Jersey,” said Corzine campaign spokesman Sean Darcy.

Corzine, a wealthy former Wall Street CEO, does not take a salary for being governor and pays for all his own travel, Darcy said.

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Filed under Associated Press, Chris Christie, ethical violations, ethics, Gov. Jon Corzine, New Jersey

Video: Grenafege For Assembly

State Assembly Candidate for 13th Legislative District, Democrat James Grenafege, released a new campaign video today.

Grenafege, a Middletowntown resident, is running to unseat Republican Amy Handlin from her cushy assembly seat in Trenton.

The video contains a brief biographical profile on Mr. Grenafege and details some of the issues that he feels are important to residents in the 13th district as well as the State.
Job Creation, Leadership, Ethics and the Environment are just a few of the issues that Jim Grenafege cares about.

To find out more about James Grenafege and where he stands on the issues, vist the candidates website www.assembly13.org

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Filed under 13th Assembly District, Amy Handlin, Assembly13.org, Democratic Candidate, ethics, Jim Grenafege, Job creation, Monmouth County, New Jersey, the environment

Video: Christie, Rove, and the US Attorney’s office

It didn’t take long for the Corzine campaign to come out swinging after the latest revelation concerning the Governor’s opponent Chris Christie and his converations with Bush White House deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove.

Rove testified before the House Judiciary Committee on July 7, 2009 and acknowldged that he and Christie had conversations about a potential Christie run for the governorship of NJ while still acting an U.S Attorney.

Watch the video, then read the latest about this potential scandel from the Huffington Post:

New documents about Karl Rove’s involvement in the U.S. Attorney firing scandal have the potential to create ripples in the 2009 gubernatorial race in New Jersey.

In an on-the-record interview with the House Judiciary Committee on July 7, 2009, the former Bush strategist acknowledged that he had held several conversations with current GOP candidate Chris Christie over the course of several years regarding the possibility of running for the governor’s chair.

Christie, Rove said, was interested in mounting a bid and “asked me questions about who — who were good people that knew about running for governor that he could talk to.”

The admission ties the former New Jersey-based U.S. attorney even further to the Bush administration at a time when his election opponent, Gov. Jon Corzine, has attempted repeatedly to push that connection. It also raises questions as to how apolitical Christie was in his prior job.

Appointed by President Bush to the role of U.S. Attorney in January 2002, Christie earned a stellar reputation for busting white-collar criminals including crooked members of the political establishment. His success led to speculation that he would mount a bid for the governor’s chair, first against then Gov. James McGreevey, then against Corzine during the ’06 election. He dismissed the talk by positioning himself above the fray.

“I am just concentrating on this job and working on this job,” he told The Star-Ledger in November 2003. “I have absolutely no idea what the future will bring, but I feel I was given a job by the president, and I owe it to him to spend full-time concentrating on that job. And that doesn’t permit me to sit around and speculate about what I will do.”

In that same article Christie said he was being “extra sensitive” to avoid politics, lest those critics who accused him of being a Bush patronage appointee be proved correct.

Four years later, when talk came up again, the line was much the same. “I think about that only because people bring it up to me all the time,” Christie said about the election speculation in 2007. “But I don’t focus on that. If I do my job the best I can… The future will take care of itself.”

Around that time, it turns out, he was at least partially focused on a run at the governor’s chair. And he was turning to one of the GOP’s most prominent strategists for advice. As Rove told the House Judiciary Committee: “I talked to him twice in the last couple of years, perhaps one time while I was at the White House and once or twice since I left the White House, but — not regarding his duties as U.S. Attorney, but regarding his interest in running for governor.” …

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Filed under Chris Christie, ethics, House Judiciary Committee, Jim McGreevey, Jon Corzine, Karl Rove, New Jersey, The Huffington Post