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Department of Community Affairs, Local Finance Bd. v. Cook

June 2, 1995

DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS, LOCAL FINANCE BOARD, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
WILLIAM G. COOK, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from State of New Jersey, Department of Community Affairs, Local Finance Board.

Approved for Publication June 2, 1995.

Before Judges Baime, Kestin and A.a. Rodriguez. The opinion of the court was delivered by Baime, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baime

BAIME, J.A.D.

At issue is whether members of the board of trustees of a municipal public library are subject to the financial disclosure requirements of the Local Government Ethics Law (N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.1 to -22.25). We hold that such officials must comply with the Ethics Law's prescriptions.

I.

Appellant is a member of the board of trustees of the Dover Township public library. On December 9, 1991, the Local Finance Board of the Department of Community Affairs requested appellant to file a financial statement. When appellant refused, the Board sent a second notice threatening to impose a fine or begin removal proceedings. Based on appellant's continued refusal, the Board issued an order on April 15, 1992, assessing a fine of $100 and directing compliance with the Ethics Law's financial disclosure requirement within ten days. Appellant requested a hearing and the matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the Chief Administrative Law Judge issued her initial decision in which she found that appellant was a "local government officer" and was obliged to file a financial disclosure statement. Specifically, the Judge determined that appellant, as a library trustee, qualified as a "managerial executive" under N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.3g, because he shared with other board members the authority to hire and fire library staff and fix their compensation, make purchases, rent or construct facilities, and make budgetary recommendations. The Judge rejected appellant's constitutional arguments that the Ethics Law is overbroad, invades the privacy of board members, and violates their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The Local Finance Board adopted the Judge's decision. Appellant filed this appeal. We now affirm.

II.

The Local Government Ethics Law was enacted in 1991. The articulated objectives of the statutory scheme are to promote public confidence in the integrity of elected and appointed representatives and to prevent conflicts between the private interests and public duties of government officers. N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.2b and c. In furtherance of these purposes, the Legislature adopted a statutory code of ethics, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5, which is applicable to all "local government officer[s]," N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.3g, and "government employee[s]," N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.3f. The code of ethics governs virtually every person who serves in local government, except individuals appointed to purely advisory bodies, and officials, such as school board members and municipal court personnel, who are guided by other equally rigorous requirements. See, e.g., N.J.S.A. 18A:12-25 and -26.

The Ethics Law also requires "government officers," but not "government employees," to file annual financial disclosure statements with the Local Finance Board. N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.6. These statements are to contain financial information relating not only to the "government officer," but also to his or her immediate family. N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.6(1). In restricting these disclosure requirements to "government officers," the Legislature clearly wished to target individuals having policy-making responsibilities. This purpose is reflected in the definition of "government officer" as

any person whether compensated or not, whether part-time or full-time: (1) elected to any office of a local government agency; (2) serving on a local government agency which has the authority to enact ordinances, approve development applications or grant zoning variances; (3) who is a member of an independent municipal, county or regional authority; or (4) who is a managerial executive or confidential employee of a local government agency . . . but shall not mean any employee of a school district or member of a school board.

N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.3g.

Although the Ethics Law does not define the term "managerial executive," it incorporates by reference the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act ...


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