Mayor Yaede Announces New Comprehensive Ethics Program for Hamilton Township; State Acknowledges that the Local Finance Board is a “Far More Credible Entity” to Handle Local Ethics Complaints in an Unbiased Manner
Today, Hamilton Township Mayor Kelly A. Yaede announced a new comprehensive ethics program that will apply to all officers, employees and members of township boards and commissions.
“Due to the events of last year concerning a few individuals who are no longer employed by Hamilton Township, questions have been raised concerning ethics in Hamilton’s government. In order to answer these questions, on my first full day as Mayor I directed my staff to review the Township’s ethics policies to determine what, if anything, could or should be done to strengthen those policies,” Mayor Yaede said. “After a prudent review of the existing policies, certain areas were identified where things could be done better. As a result of these efforts I am here today to announce a new comprehensive ethics program for Hamilton Township. This new program consists of three parts that, together, will provide a comprehensive approach to ethics training, education and enforcement.”
The first part of the new ethics program requires all officers and employees of the Township, as well as members of certain boards and commissions as designated by State law, on an annual basis, to be provided with a copy of the Township’s Code of Ethics and for each of these individuals to sign an acknowledgement that he or she received a copy of the Code and understands its requirements.
The second part of the new program establishes a mandatory annual ethics training requirement for all officers and employees in managerial and supervisory positions, as well as employees that have daily contact with the public, to attend. Hamilton Township officials are working with representatives of the Garden State Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, of which Hamilton is a member, to provide this training at no additional cost to Hamilton’s taxpayers. This training will provide information concerning the legal and ethical standards that apply to public workers, how to recognize an ethical dilemma, making the ethical choice, reporting requirements, and personal and organizational liability.
The third part of the new program extends the existing Gift Policy to apply to all officers and employees of the Township, as well as any member of any Township board or commission, clarifies that a violation of the Gift Policy will result in the imposition of disciplinary action pursuant to State law and regulations, and also requires all officers, employees and members, on an annual basis, to be provided with a copy of the Gift Policy and for each of these individuals to sign an acknowledgement that he or she received a copy of the Policy and understands its requirements.
“This new comprehensive ethics program is a reasonable and prudent response to the events of last year,” commented Yaede. “Although we cannot completely eliminate unethical behavior, we can act to make this behavior less likely, take away any excuses for acting unethically, and ensure that any individual that chooses to act unethically is aware that he or she will receive disciplinary action for any violations of this new policy.”
In conjunction with the new ethics policy Mayor Yaede also stated that after much deliberation, she will be asking the Township Council to repeal the municipal board of ethics. Although the municipal board of ethics will no longer exist, all officers, employees and members of certain boards and commissions in Hamilton Township will remain subject to the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law and the jurisdiction of the State’s Local Finance Board.
“The decision to repeal the municipal board of ethics was a most difficult one. However, after reviewing all of the pros and cons, as well as the legal and financial requirements of maintaining a municipal ethics board, and after receiving guidance from Thomas Neff, the director of the Division of Local Government Services, I decided that the repeal of the board of ethics was in the best interests of the residents of Hamilton Township,” explained Mayor Yaede. “In fact, the deciding factor for me was Mr. Neff’s professional opinion that the Local Finance Board could be a ‘far more credible entity to handle local complaints in an unbiased manner.’ Due to the appointment requirements of State law, a municipal board of ethics is the equivalent of the fox watching the henhouse,” Yaede continued. “My administration is committed to ethics reform and in order to show that commitment a link to the Local Finance Board’s website, where information can be found regarding how to file an ethics complaint, will be placed on the Township’s homepage. Anyone wishing to file an ethics complaint against any Hamilton Township officer, employee or member will have the means to do so right at their fingertips.”
Based on information provided by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs most counties and municipalities in the State, including Mercer County and all municipalities located therein, utilize the Local Finance Board as their board of ethics. Additionally, State law requires a municipality to provide funding and staffing to a municipal board of ethics. Hamilton’s taxpayers already pay for the Local Finance Board through their State taxes – it is unfair to charge the taxpayers a second time for a municipal board of ethics that is both redundant and potentially biased.
“When I became Mayor I said that I would work hard to restore the people’s faith in their government. This new comprehensive ethics program is designed to ensure that those individuals that are entrusted to serve the public are provided with the means to know their responsibilities and to ensure the public that their government is working for them,” Mayor Yaede concluded.
Click Here to View the Letter to Division of Local Government Services
Click Here to View the Response by Division of Local Government Services Director