Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pay to play - Ledger - Woodbridge plans extending law

Published in the Star-Ledger, Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Woodbridge to vote on extending 'pay-to-play' ban

Star-Ledger Staff

The Woodbridge council is ex pected to vote tonight on a "pay- to-play" ordinance that would ban developers from donating to township and county campaign funds for a year before being awarded a municipal contract and during the span of the contract.

The measure also would apply to consultants, lobbyists and professionals who work on behalf of developers. The ban is considered an extension of existing pay-to-play rules for township vendors.

"I'm hoping that all the questions that have been asked have been answered to everyone's satisfaction," said interim Mayor Joseph Vitale. "I think, generally speaking, everyone is in accord in terms of it being something important."

The rules have been opposed, however, by Councilwoman Caroline Ehrlich. She said the ban is not strict enough on "wheeling," a process in which contributions could be made by developers to county organizations and later funneled to local officials.

"I don't support the ordinance," said Ehrlich, the only council member to vote against introduction of the measure. "I strongly support the concept behind it, but I think it needs to be at a higher standard."

But Heather Taylor, spokeswoman for Citizen's Campaign, a part of the larger Center for Civic Responsibility that's supporting the ordinance, said county contributions are covered by the ordi nance.

Some council members have questioned the timing of the ordi nance so close to an election that would choose the township's new mayor.

"I don't understand where the high priority was to push this so fast," said Councilman Charles Kenny.

Taylor said Woodbridge should adopt the ordinance now because several major redevelopment projects are slated for the near future, including the Keasbey waterfront and improvements to Avenel and Route 1.

Chris Struben, a Republican candidate running for mayor in November, said he thought the reform agenda was a great step in the right direction.

"It shows that there's some willingness to clean up government," he said. "Maybe Mayor Vitale crafted what he knew he could get passed to get the ball rolling and the next administration could take it a step further."

Struben is running against Democrat John McCormac, a former state treasurer, in the special election for a one-year unexpired mayoral term following the death of Mayor Frank Pelzman.

Amisha Padnani covers Woodbridge. She may be reached at (732) 404-8091 or apadnani@starledger.com

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.