Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pay-to-Play - APP - Monmouth County OKs restrictions

Published in the Asbury Park Press, Friday, August 10, 2007

County OKs pay-to-play restrictions
Sweeping reform hailed as a model for state


FREEHOLD — Sweeping pay-to-play and campaign-fund wheeling reforms were enacted by the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders on Thursday night, drawing bipartisan praise and the endorsement of the Citizens' Campaign good government group.

The group's members had attended county meetings for months and pushed for the changes, which will take effect Sept. 1. Other residents — about 50 people attended the board meeting at the Hall of Records — also said they welcomed the resolution, which was unanimously passed by the freeholders.

Howell resident John Lebrio told the board he has "been a staunch advocate for these types of changes in Howell, to no avail" and also noted that in recent years requests to county officials to take action "fell on deaf ears."

"I'm glad to see we've done a complete turnaround," Lebrio said.

Ocean Township resident Kate Mellina, who has addressed the topic at various board meetings during the last 22 months, told the freeholders that they've "set a standard for the state. I hope the municipalities follow."

The rules cover pay-to-play restrictions for professional service contracts and "extraordinary unspecifiable" service contracts, capping political contributions for those seeking such work at $300.

Also, wheeling money into Monmouth County elections is curbed: No candidate for county office shall accept a contribution from another county's political party in excess of $2,600 per election, according to the resolution.

Other highlights of the measure: contributions to a political party committee or municipal party committee count against the limit; there are restrictions against business entities seeking government contracts; and public disclosure
statements must be filed at least 10 days before the awarding of a contract or an agreement to procure services.

Not an easy journey

Republican Robert D. Clifton, Democrat Barbara J. McMorrow, county administrators and representatives of Citizens' Campaign — for which Mellina serves as a volunteer county co-chairwoman — had worked on different drafts of the
legislation since an action committee was formed at the start of the year.

McMorrow took office in January, becoming the first Democrat to serve on the board since 1989. Mellina said, "I do believe the rivalry thing, having the kid from the other side, helped this."

McMorrow said: "The journey has not been an easy one. There have been detours and bumps. But we got there. The pay-to-play portion of this resolution is tried and tested."

McMorrow said new rules on who the county purchases services and items from are so strong that Citizens' Campaign "is considering adding them to their model ordinance."

Clifton said Mercer County was the first county to pass a pay-to-play resolution and Atlantic County introduced a measure last week.

Clifton said, "We believe ours will go far beyond what the state has. We hope all the counties follow suit."

State law bans contracts over $17,500 from being given to a business that made a donation to the elected officials awarding the contract, or their political party committee, unless they are awarded through a "fair and open process."

Freeholder Lillian G. Burry said, "We are making history with the passing of this pay-to-play legislation. It would never occur without the tenacity and concern of the citizens."

Ball in state's court

William C. Barham, the freeholder director, said state legislators "should take notice."

"I call on all the legislators to stop the nonsense and stop wheeling all the money around, because we all know what's going on," he said.

Another Howell resident, John Costigan, agreed pressure should be put on the state government to move to tougher reforms.

"We should all go to Trenton. We should start at the top. I'm glad to see we're doing a great job in Monmouth County," Costigan said.

Jeannette Mistretta, a Freehold Township resident, said there had been much political interference while the legislation was being drafted. On one occasion, the work committee's draft scheduled for introduction on June 28 was scuttled and replaced by a version favored by GOP leaders.

"There were lots of shenanigans that went on at the last minute," Mistretta said. "But at the end you did the right thing. You showed some outstanding leadership. I want to thank you."

The resolution states that "substantial political contributions from those seeking to or performing business with the county of Monmouth raise reasonable concerns on the part of taxpayers and residents as to their trust in government contracts." The document goes on to note that "counties are authorized to adopt by resolution measures limiting the awarding of public contracts to business entities that have made political contributions."

Bob Jordan: (732) 308-7755 or

Link to online story. Archived here.

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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.