Sunday, August 17, 2014

We're (still) waiting

On February 7, 2014, Trenton’s then mayor, Tony Mack, was found guilty of six federal counts of corruption. Due to a quirk in New Jersey state law, Mack was able to hold onto his office for nearly three more weeks until Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson heard a motion brought by acting State Attorney General John Hoffman. 

Indeed, Mack had actually continued in office for a year and half after the FBI had raided his home and city hall; 16 months after he was officially arrested and charged; and 14 months after he was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury.

On February 21, 2014, the Times of Trenton ran a guest Op Ed by Jim Carlucciand Kevin Moriarty.

In that piece, they wrote:
“Mack’s criminal odyssey highlights critical problems with New Jersey law that the Legislature must address if other communities — or the state as a whole — are to avoid an experience similar to Trenton’s and retain trust in their public officials.”
“Public officials need to be reminded that if they act appropriately and conduct themselves ethically, they won’t find themselves indicted or convicted.”
The writers understand that, as Americans, we are innocent until proven guilty. They also argue that, “without making pre-judgments about guilt or innocence, it can be safely said a criminal indictment, at best, is a major distraction to the execution of an official’s duties.”

To date, nothing has been done to change the law in New Jersey that allows these indicted officials from continuing in office.

Many saw where the Mack administration was heading simply by reviewing his election reports. In fact, there are still open “reviews” of his reports even while he is currently a resident of a federal prison.

The February Op-Ed included a recommendation to increase the resources of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission so they could better stay on top of the questionable practices too often employed in the state’s political theater.
“Illuminating and correcting wrongdoing on the campaign trail could help reduce the number of indicted officials down the road. The Legislature needs to allocate more resources to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. Regular users of the ELEC website know that it is down as much as it is up. The problems, reported in the minutes of the November 2013 meeting of the commission, are an outdated and overtaxed computer system and a lack of funds to make the necessary upgrades.”

This matter has come to light again with recent questions about potential violations of the city of Trenton’s Pay-to-Play ordinance by contributors to newly elected mayor Eric Jackson’s campaign.
On March 10th, 2014 Moriarty blogged about Jackson’s long overdue reporting on the 2010 campaign for Mayor. In a follow up piece from April 22  Moriarty noted that Jackson had updated some of his reports but raised some other questions about excessive contributions from former senator Robert Torricelli. On June 3 and yet again this month on August 4,  August 5,  and August 7, Jackson's campaign reporting was called into question on Moriarty's blog. 

The legislative response to all of this has been…crickets.

Another point made in the February Op-Ed by Carlucci and Moriarty was the need to rework the recall process in the state.

“A practical and effective recall process will allow New Jersey voters to exercise greater control over elected officials and must be considered a weapon to fight future public corruption.”

The legislature needs to take a serious look at these issues and pass amendments to our current laws that will eliminate the “wiggle room” that allows corruption to continue.  Yes, some have made noise about this but nothing has gotten any traction.

Again quoting the February Op-Ed:
“In 2012, Assemblymen Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson introduced a bill which would automatically suspend, without pay, public officials upon indictment. If convicted, the official forfeits his or her office, pay and pension credits from date of indictment. If found not guilty, the official would be reinstated, and back pay and pension would be granted upon successful petition. State Sen. Linda Greenstein followed with a companion bill. The assemblymen pre-filed their bill for the new legislative term (A1024).”
“In October 2012, Sen. Shirley Turner proposed amending the state constitution to achieve the same goal. Nothing has become of that.”
“Assemblyman Reed Gusciora has stated he will seek to change state law to allow automatic forfeiture of political office upon criminal conviction, regardless of where the conviction occurs.”

The people of New Jersey are still waiting. 

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