Conflict of Interest? NJ Mayors are Taught What They Can’t Do
With more than 550 municipalities, New Jersey has a lot of mayors.
But not all of them serve in that position full time. In fact, more probably have a day job.
Michael Darcy, the executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said that whenever a mayor has a full-time or part-time job, conflicts of issue can become an issue. To deal with this, the League offers local officials training classes in government ethics.
Conflicts arise when a mayor’s personal business benefits or gives the appearance of benefiting from local government actions.
“In those kinds of situations, any public official whether they’re a mayor or a governing body member or a planning board member, they should be recusing themselves from the decision-making process," Darcy said.
He said an example of that could be if a mayor owned the local McDonald's franchise and the police department is buying meals there for prisoners being held overnight in jail. When the invoice is sent to the municipality, someone other than the mayor would have to sign for the payment.
Not all conflict-of-interest situations directly involve the mayor getting a direct financial reward.
“It could be where a family member is going to apply for a job with the town. They (the mayo) may want to recuse themselves in order to avoid any appearance of conflict there," he said.
When a mayor is accused of doing something improper, if it’s not significant enough to involve an immediate criminal investigation, the matter may be handled by a local ethics board.
“But most of the time, the municipalities send conflicts of interest and ethics violations to the Department of Community Affairs' Local Finance Board. They review the facts and decide whether there’s a conflict or not," he said.
Darcy said some people who serve as mayors, especially in smaller towns, are teachers, attorneys and IT professionals while others work as private business owners or in hospital emergency rooms, but no matter how big a municipality may be, possible conflict of interest situations may always arise.