“Pay-to-Play” corruption is hurting the environment throughout Ocean County. The Dover Township Council recently pulled a dirty move by repealing citizen-generated reform. Please help reinstate that reform by attending the Council Meeting on Tuesday, March 8 at 6 PM.
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“PAY TO PLAY” MUST BE MADE STRAIGHT
Shortly before the New Year, while you and I were busy enjoying the holidays with our families, elected officials in Toms River were busy bringing dishonest government to an all-time low.
It happened one night, December 28 to be exact. The Council, at a “regular” meeting, repealed a clean government ordinance that a group of Dover Township citizen-petitioners had persuaded them to pass in August. But this was no ordinary ordinance and no ordinary repeal.
During the spring and summer of 2004 the petitioners gathered 2,085 certified signatures from registered voters in order to place a binding referendum on the November ballot. The referendum could have brought a measure of honesty to government by imposing a three-year ban on “pay to play”, the practice of awarding no-bid contracts to those who make political contributions to township or county political campaign funds.
Public contracting touches upon everything government does: the cost and quality of services, the amount and location of development, the tax rate, and the motivation of those whom the township employs. The public deserves the right to have confidence that contracts are awarded on merit and not in return for political contributions.
If you live in Toms River and do not recall a clean government referendum on last November’s ballot, your memory has not failed. The matter never went to the ballot. Instead, acting under the provisions of New Jersey’s Faulkner Act, the Dover Township Council enacted the “pay to play” ban by passing it as an ordinance in August.
Under the law, when the Council passed the petitioners’ ordinance, the need for a referendum in November was eliminated. Thus, the referendum – which would have been binding for three years – never came before Dover voters.
Then, on December 28, having denied their constituents the right to enact the binding three-year reform in the general election, the Council reversed itself and repealed the ordinance.
This brazen, mendacious act enabled the Council to dole out no-bid contracts for the year 2005 to the same cronies and old boys who have been playing the “pay to play” game for years.
Dover citizens do not need to research which of their elected officials voted for and which against them in this matter: the vote was unanimous. Neither the one absent Council member nor Mayor Paul Brush – who campaigned on an anti-“pay to play” platform, and who could have vetoed the Council’s repeal – has expressed objection to this game of “bait and switch”.
In attempting to justify his deceit, Council President Gregory McGuckin recently told the Asbury Park Press [February 11] that he and his colleagues were not aware of the full meaning of the ordinance when they passed it in August. This is perhaps the most enfeebled excuse the world has been offered since Bob Marley tried to get off for shooting the sheriff but not the deputy.
McGuckin – an experienced partner in the prominent Republican “pay to play” law firm of Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Cherkos & Connors – was counseled by Township Attorney Mark Troncone – himself a prominent Democratic campaign finance functionary. Each possesses a level of competency well above the threshold necessary to comprehend this ordinance.
Your word or mine given in August should still be valid in December, and so should a politician’s word to 2,085 constituents.
The citizens who gathered the thousands of signatures in their attempt to create the clean government referendum are not giving up. They have a three-pronged plan that needs your help.
– First, they will attend the Council meeting on Tuesday, March 8 at 6 PM to demand that the language as it existed in last summer’s petition be enacted as an ordinance.
– Second, they will redistribute the same petition and seek legal help to get it on the November 2005 ballot.
– Finally, they have appealed the Council’s duplicitous action to Superior Court.
Those wishing to help make government in Toms River less corrupt can attend the March 8 meeting, speak out, and receive petitions to circulate. Human nature cannot be changed, but the rules of the game for government can – and must – be cleaned up.
William deCamp Jr. is a leader of the ad hoc Money and Politics Action Group in Ocean County.
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