Ethics board’s future still up in the air

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OCEAN CITY — The fate of the city’s ethics board took a twist at the Thursday, Feb. 23 City Council meeting when council members voted 5-1 to table a resolution to reappoint the board’s former chairman.

Councilman Roy Wagner cast the lone dissenting vote Thursday evening; Councilmen Scott Ping, Keith Hartzell, John Kemenosh, Tony Wilson and Mike Allegretto voted in favor of tabling the appointment of Stanley Pszczolkowski.

Wilson said Pszczolkowski, whose term expired at the end of December 2011, would be the perfect candidate to fill a vacancy on the board. However, with more questions than answers concerning the board, he wanted to hold off appointing him.

“This is no time to go halfway,” he said. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.”

Wilson noted that there was a possibility that the Joint Insurance Fund could provide insurance to cover the cost of litigating an appeal; there was also a possibility of obtaining a pro bono attorney, among other issues.

“Research is cheap, let’s get the facts together before we put a board in place and put ourselves in harm’s way,” he said.

Citing the cost of litigating cases once an appeal is filed, council introduced an ordinance in January that would disband the ethics board. Then, council breathed new life into the board at the Feb. 9 meeting when members agreed to table a final vote on the ordinance. Council said it would consider a resolution at the next meeting appointing a fourth member to the board so that it may form a quorum and continue its work.

In considering the elimination of the board, council members noted that the state offers board to hear ethics complaints, which is called the Local Finance Board, though citizens must deal with officials in Trenton, not locally. Several members of the public said there was a backlog and the bureaucracy was not easy to deal with, among other issues. They said they would prefer to deal locally with an ethics issue.

It was the cost of a recent appeal, estimated at $22,000, which soured council on further supporting the ethics board. Councilman Roy Wagner, who has supported the ethics board since its spending came into question in November, said he wanted to move forward and appoint Pszczolkowski.

“Maybe the person who filed the appeal will change his mind,” Wagner said, adding that the city has a backlog of cases to deal with and needs to get busy.

Councilman Keith Hartzell said he wanted council to make a decision on the ethics board, not quibble about appointing a member.

“Do it, vote it up or down, have a board or not. Let’s set a ‘drop dead’ date to do it,” he said.

Hartzell said he had further researched the state’s ethics board and found that much of what the public had said in arguing against using it was not true. An appeal at the state level is funded by the state; a local appeal is the sole responsibility of local taxpayers.

A proponent of the board at one time, Hartzell said he had changed his mind after researching.

“Pretty much what I found out is contrary to what’s been said in public,” he said, noting that he found two people who utilized the state board and were “extremely happy.”

“We were told many things, that there were too many cases and the board was busy,” he said. “Guess what? They’re not. I want these people who were saying that to tell me who they talked to at the state and we’ll get them on a conference call.

“Do your research; do it quickly and we’ll vote it up or down,” he said. “We owe it to the board to give them an existence that’s going to stick.”

Councilman Scott Ping said the Pszczolkowski would be his first choice, too, if he thought a board was definitely going to exist.

“We were asked to table whether there is going to be an ethics board, or not,” he said. “Until we do that, appointing Stan is premature. Until we do that, why would we put someone else on this board? Vote it up or down and then reappoint Stan. He’s the perfect person if and when the board is established.”

Councilman John Kemenosh said he agreed.

Resident Ed Price said he did not think council understood their responsibility.

“You have an obligation,” he said. “Right now you have a law on the books.”

Price said council was obligated to appoint Pszczolkowski since the board was on the books and needed a quorum.

“It’s a law!” Price said.

Resident Jack Stover chastised council for not listening to Price.

“Why do we pay you?” he asked.

Stover said the citizenry needed to form a “public group to go over what in the Sam Hill is not being done here.”

Council did not provide a timeline for further consideration of an ethics board.

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