Breaking Down State's Ethics Decision on Marlboro Councilwoman Marder
Marlboro-Colts Neck Patch takes a look at the Local Finance Board's decision to not uphold one finding in the Marder ethics case.
The Local Finance Board of the Department of Community Affairs has asked the Marlboro Ethics Board to reconsider its original ethics decision, stating Councilwoman Randi Marder's husband conducting business with the township is a perceived impropriety.
In a Jan. 29 letter to the Marlboro Ethics Board (attached to this article), the Local Finance Board upholds a postion of the MTEB's decision to dismiss charges citing lack of evidence.
However, the Local Finance Board also called for additional investigation and the application of state legal standards and ethics laws.
In June, the Marlboro Ethics Board dismissed a claim from former council candidate Chris Dean, citing a lack of evidence. The claim originated in October of 2011, days before Marder and Dean went head to head in a Marlboro council race.
Dean alleged that Marlboro Township's use of a Manalapan printing company is unethical because the firm, Inkwell Global, is owned by the Marder's husband. Dean supplied township records, including invoices from the company, as evidence.
Findings of the Marlboro Ethics Board in July, 2012:
- Marder did not violate the Township Ethics Code "simply because Inkwell continued to do business with the township following Marder's election."
- Mayor Jon Hornik and Councilman Frank LaRocca, named in Dean's claim but not charged in the claim, were excluded from review because Dean did not file the necessary forms to include them.
- The MTEB was the appropriate venue for the complaint and was entitled to take jurisdiction.
Voting record and award of bids
While Marder has never directly voted through her position on council to award Inkwell any contract or bid, the board found an annual resolution allowing the Township Purchasing Agent to purchase and award bids to any company within a $17,500 threshold without council approval.
A state law upholds that resolution. A business is subject to a Township Council vote and public bid process if the business receives more than $17,500 from the township in one year.
The letter also states that between 2008 and 2011, Inkwell received $18,825 from the township. Also between that time, Lenny's Trophies, owned by Inkwell, received $24,879.35.
"These payments for goods and services did not exceed the minimum bid threshold in any one given year, and review of the procedures followed to award the work to the companies indicates that provisions of the Local Public Contracting Law were followed."
Local Finance Board Action
An investigation by the Local Finance Board began when Dean appealed the MTEB decision to the state on Aug. 10.
Dean alleged the MTEB is not properly constituted by the Local Government Ethics Law and one or more members of the MTEB engaged in inappropriate ex parte communication with Hornik during the investigation.
In the Jan. 29 letter, the Local Finance Board details that while the state upholds findings 2 and 3 from the MTTEB, a perceived impropriety between Marder as a Councilwoman and transactions between the township and Steven Marder's business deserves further investigation.
The Local Finance Board found the MTEB's code is substantially similar to state ethics codes, and is approved the appropriate state boards.
However, the Local Finance Board also found that the MTEB did not thoroughly investigate Marder's relationship to Inkwell in relation to the township's own ethical standards.
"If a relationship exists that should have been disclosed, the MTEB should apply the proper legal standard to Councilwoman Marder's relationship to Inkwell and the award of work to Inkwell by the township," the letter stated.
Additional investigation and application of the law is now in the hands of the MTEB.
The next Marlboro Township Ethics Board meeting is not yet scheduled.