Outgoing Mayor Proposes Ethics Reform Package

PERTH AMBOY—Mayor Joseph Vas and Councilman David Szilagyi unveiled a pay-to-play and ethics reform package at last week’s city council meeting. The package includes an ordinance to prohibit so-called “pay to play” campaign donations by developers and city contract seekers as well as an ordinance to memorialize a comprehensive employee ethics package first adopted in a February 2007 executive order.

“With big money becoming very influential on the political life of the nation, it is important that the City of Perth Amboy take proactive measures in eliminating any such tactics in the redevelopment process and bolster the public’s trust in the important work which government must perform. We know that it is illegal to take bribes in payment for municipal action. The issue may get murky, however, when municipal officials deal with political contributions which are legal, as opposed to bribes, which are not,” said Vas.

“We must make sure that contractors continue to be awarded on merit. Once enacted, the ordinance will place a limit on contributions to candidates for public office from professional business entities that do business with or seek to do business with the city. It is important that redevelopment decisions continue to be made in the broad public interest and not as a reward to large campaign contributors.”

Council President Peter Jimenez argued that the reform package should be left to the city’s new administration. Mayor-elect Wilda Diaz also questioned the timing of the proposal by the longtime mayor. “I am surprised it took him 18 years to realize that the city needs a pay-to-play ordinance,” she said.

Vas, who leaves office June 30, said that the ordinance introduction comes after a section of previous pay-to-play legislation was overturned by the Appellate Division of Superior Court. He said that the proposed legislation is modeled after the pay-to-play law adopted in Woodbridge.

Diaz also criticized the measure for not going far enough to block the influence of developers. The mayor’s proposal would prevent developers from donating money to political candidates or elected public officers and would bar consultants with city contracts from donating more that $400 to political candidates or elected public officers within the year that the contract was awarded. According to a spokesperson from Citizens’ Campaign, a Metuchen-based organization that has advised towns on pay-to-play laws, the ordinance proposed by Vas still allows for contributions to local political parties and political action committees.

Over 75 municipalities across New Jersey have already enacted pay-to-play ordinances, including nearby towns of Edison Township, Highland Park, Metuchen, Sayreville and Woodbridge.

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