Hamilton Township PAL check presentation

Members of the Hamilton Township Police Athletic League present a check for $1,000 to the Police Department K-9 Unit. From left are Sgt. Christopher Robell, PAL Civilian Vice President Lani Bouchacourt, Julien Bouchacourt, PAL Treasurer Dianne Allen-Garvey, Harper Garvey, Police Officer and PAL President Dennis Bakker, PAL Secretary Christine Wilson, and police K-9 Officer Cory Silvio with police dog Argo.

Charlie Pritchard

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Township Committee introduced an ordinance Monday, Dec. 4, that would do away with the "pay to play" law adopted in 2008.

The law, which placed limits on the dollar amount of political contributions, was designed so that political campaign contributors seeking professional service contracts with the township would not receive preferential treatment.

The ordinance states that large political contributions from those seeking to do business with the township raised reasonable concerns on the part of taxpayers and residents as to their trust in government contracts. The law limited contributions from an individual meeting the definition of professional business entity or vendor to a candidate for Hamilton Township Committee to $300 or $500 to the Atlantic County party committee or to a political action committee referenced in the ordinance. The limit for a group of individuals that met the same definition was $2500.

Since the passage of the ordinance, any professional business entity or vendor wishing to do business with the township has had to file a sworn statement that it has complied with the law. Anyone found in violation of the ordinance was to be disqualified from eligibility for future township contracts for four years.

According to Township Committeeman Roger Silva, the only member of the current governing body who served on the committee when the ordinance was passed, the law has proven to be ineffectual.

“It was honorable and designed to level the playing field,” he said. “However, the goals are not being met.”

Silva, a Republican, contends that the local Democratic candidates in recent years have benefited from outside funding that has skirted the ordinance.

“Out-of-county parties have been donating, often not reported, due to loopholes in the law,” he said. “Several of us have been victims.”

He specifically referred to this November’s election, when, he said, the Democratic candidate’s Election Law Enforcement Commission campaign finance reports did not reflect the funding for the large amount of campaign literature distributed by the candidate’s campaign.

If the 2008 ordinance is overturned, the state’s pay-to-play law would apply to contracts entered into by the township.

“The current ordinance affects both parties,” Committeeman Rodney Guishard said. “How does this change it? I’m not sure what this accomplishes.”

“Many towns and counties that had this law have since done away with it, including Atlantic County government,” Deputy Mayor Art Schenker said. “The law allowed political action committees to buy elections. Elections should be decided by township residents, not outsiders.”

Under the state’s Local Unit Law, counties, municipalities and their agencies or instrumentalities may not award any contracts worth more than $17,500 that have not been awarded pursuant to a fair and open process, to a business entity if it or a person who owns more than 10 percent of the business entity makes a reportable contribution to a candidate that is ultimately responsible for the award of the contract or to the candidate’s political party, in the one year prior to the award of the contract.

The vote to introduce the ordinance passed 3-1 with Mayor John Kurtz joining Silva and Schenker in the majority and Guishard in opposition. Committeewoman Judy Link, a Democrat, was absent.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will take place at the next committee meeting, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18, at the municipal building, 6101 13th St., Mays Landing.

Also at the meeting, members of the Hamilton Township Police Athletic League presented a check for $1,000 to the Hamilton Township Police Department K-9 Unit.

Stay informed! Sign up to receive top headlines from Atlantic County delivered to your inbox.