Belmar- A committee of Independent and Democrat Belmar voters is gathering signatures to repeal the recently passed Pay-to-Play/Ethics Ordinance that allows Belmar elected officials running for higher office outside of Belmar to accept campaign contributions from Borough vendors, professionals, liquor licensees and developers. New the Ethics Ordinance also allows those who contribute less than $300 to an elected official’s campaign to remain anonymous. The previous Ethics Ordinance required that all campaign contributions be disclosed.
In an announcement released on Common Sense for Belmar, Thomas Fahy, Linda Chelsen, Linda Sharkus, Katrina Clapsis, and former Mayor Kenneth Pringle said:
To the people of Belmar:
The recent guilty pleas by former Birdsall executives serve as a reminder that the purchase of political influence by outside interests continues to be a problem that taxpayers must vigilantly protect themselves against. We signers of this letter (all of us are either political independents or registered Democrats) have been grateful that Belmar has enjoyed having very strict pay to play ordinances on the books that we believe have served us well and greatly reduced the likelihood of such improprieties occurring here.
Unfortunately, on February 16 the Borough Council voted to remove from our conflict of interest ordinance some of our most important protections, opening the door to pass-through contributions that conceal the identity of the actual donor, contributions from vendors and professionals who may be looking to win contracts from the Borough, contributions from contractors seeking change orders on bid contracts, and contributions from holders of liquor licenses who might like to see a more compliant Borough Council (which acts as the local ABC board.)
The revised ordinance also, very importantly, removes all donation restrictions on Belmar elected officials who may be running for another office outside of Belmar. We feel our public officials should not be accepting money from anyone with business before the Council irrespective of the office that person might be running for.
We will be circulating a petition to protest these detrimental changes to our campaign finance laws and ask all registered voters of Belmar to join our cause and sign the petition.
Please call 732-409-0138 or email [email protected] and ask to sign the petition. With your help we can restore these important protections for the taxpayers of Belmar.
The timing of the Ordinance introduction and passage makes the loosened ethics standards appear to be for the benefit of Mayor Matt Doherty. Doherty announced that he is seeking one of the Democrat nominations for Monmouth County Freeholder in January.
The mayor scoffed at that notion, saying the Ordinance has nothing to do with his candidacy for freeholder. He said that the idea for the Ordinance first came up last summer and that the purpose is to bring Belmar in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Members of the all Democrat Borough Council echoed those sentiment in their comments before voting for the Ordinance.
Under the Faulkner Act, which governs Belmar’s municipal government, an ordinance (other then budgets and Land Use ordinances) does not take effect until 20 days after passage. If a petition opposing the ordinance is presented within that twenty day period, the ordinance is suspended for an additional 10 days while the municipal clerk certifies the petition. If the petition is signed by 15% of the number of voters who participated in the last General Assembly election, the ordinance remains suspended until it is repealed by the Council, until the petition is revoked by the Committee of Petitioners that presented it or until a referendum is held.
In this case, the process starts if the committee presents 265 signatures to the Belmar Clerk by March 7. If the petition is certified and the Belmar Council does not repeal the Ordinance.
If there is a Special Referendum, hopefully it would be held on the same day as Democrat and Republican primaries, June 7, so that the citizens of Belmar do not have to bear the cost of a Special Election.