Higher Penalties for Unethical Conduct? [AUDIO]
In the wake of a municipal official who allegedly used his position to profit from a private land deal, New Jersey's state comptroller has called for tougher penalties for unethical conduct on the local level.
State Comptroller Matt Boxer said the current maximum fine for violations of the Local Government Ethics Law is $500.
"The current penalties are ridiculously lenient," he said. "When you've got more than a million dollars at stake, 500 dollars is not a deterrent or a punishment. It just becomes a cost of doing business."
Boxer was referring to the case of Chesterfield Committeeman Lawrence Durr, accused of using his power to push a development deal through multiple hurdles.
With a million dollars at stake in the outcome, the report said Durr voted on a number of issues to facilitate the deal.
The report from the Office of the State Comptroller recommended the maximum fine be increased from $500 to $10,000.
"As a state, we need to get more serious about deterring this unethical conduct," Boxer added.
The report also provided guidance to local officials addressing potential conflicts of interest, such as finding alternate members to sit on a board when a public official has a personal stake in the matters being debated.
"As towns across New Jersey start to rebuild in the wake of Sandy, it is particularly vital that we protect the integrity of the process through which local planning boards make decisions about growth and development," said Boxer. "Local planning officials need to address potential conflicts very carefully."
The investigation of Durr was spurred by a complaint from a Chesterfield resident. The findings have been referred to the state's Division of Criminal Justice to determine whether or not Durr should face criminal charges.