Councilman to Seek Ethics Opinion on Skate Park Vote

first_imgGUINOSSO ABSTAINS, VOTES, ABSTAINSGuinosso recused himself from an April vote to apply for a county Green Acres grant that brought $500,000 in funding to the skate park, which would be located 13 feet from the sidewalk running alongside the Clothes Closet.“At first blush, I thought because we’re there, we’re conflicted,” Guinosso said Friday.He said that when he realized the Ecumenical Council had no financial interest in the Clothes Closet building, he decided to vote.He cast the only dissenting vote on the first reading of a bond ordinance authorizing spending on the project on Nov. 13. He argued that the project is too expensive and too distant from his Fourth Ward at the southern end of the island. The proposed site for the park is on the 500 block of Asbury and West avenues.Guinosso said that after Councilman Mike DeVlieger questioned his decision to change his mind on abstaining, he consulted attorneys who said it was a “borderline” decision. He said he further conferred with City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson before deciding to recuse himself again for the final vote on Dec. 4.McCrosson said she can’t discuss what advice she gives to council members.The measure passed in a 5-0 vote (with Guinosso abstaining and Council President Tony Wilson not present). ISSUE RESURFACES AT THURSDAY MEETINGNo items related to the skate park were part of the agenda for a public City Council meeting on Thursday (Dec. 18), but Hartzell raised the issue during a segment for council members’ reports.He referenced a report from another news source that suggested Guinosso was advised or coerced into recusing himself. He said the article led people to believe he had been pressured into recusing himself. He said he didn’t think any council member did or would.“If you were pressured, you need to say it in front of the public,” Hartzell said.The challenge led Guinosso to respond, “You’re probably more conflicted than I was.”It started a long exchange with Guinosso suggesting he would take the information on both his own decision not to vote and Hartzell’s decision to vote to the state Local Finance Board, which oversees ethics complaints.The local government ethics law (see section 5:35-1.5) suggests that the Local Finance Board will not issue advisory opinions on matters that have already occurred.“I was going to look into an advisory first,” Guinosso said. “But I may reconsider (and file a complaint).”“If he wants to take it there, that’s OK,” Hartzell said. “It will clear it up for everybody.”Hartzell said he’s “talked to at least 10 lawyers” and is confident that no conflict exists on his part.He said he raised the issue on Thursday because he felt council was under attack and its reputation was at stake. He said he would have supported Guinosso if he chose to vote on Dec. 4. Pete GuinossoCouncilman Pete Guinosso said Friday he plans to seek an advisory opinion from a state ethics panel on the vote that approved $750,000 in spending to build a new skate park in Ocean City.Guinosso said he questions the vote of Councilman Keith Hartzell, who rents commercial property to the 7th Street Surf Shop at 720 Asbury Avenue.As co-president of the Ocean City Ecumenical Council, which runs the charitable Clothes Closet immediately adjacent to the site of the proposed park, Guinosso recused himself from the final vote that approved the funding. He suggests that Hartzell, landlord for a surf shop that sells skateboards, should have abstained from the vote as well.At issue are conflict-of-interest laws designed to prevent people from using public office for personal gain.Keith HartzellIn each case, it seems hard to discern any direct personal benefits for either councilman by voting for or against the skate park funding.“We don’t own the building. We don’t pay rent,” said Guinosso of the city-owned Clothes Closet facility. “The only thing we do there is hand out clothes to the poor.”Guinosso’s leadership of the Ecumenical Council is voluntary and unpaid.Hartzell said Friday that he has no financial interest in the 7th Street Surf Shop, which has been a loyal tenant since 2008. He said the shop brings in less than 1 percent of its revenue from the sale of skateboards and skate accessories.Any potential ethics violation would hinge on an interpretation of a section of the state ethics code (see N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5) that reads as follows:No local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment.Did either councilman have “a personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment”?last_img

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