“Managing a local government requires knowledge and skill, but also a sense of values.” These values are defined in our State by an extensive bulleted list from the NJ League of Municipality including that it is “the belief that the chief function of local government is, at all times, to serve the best interests of all its people.” (Please note- wow- here is a direct link between my utopian visions and present day; so then the question becomes how one translates that ideal into practice; how does one work to subvert the idea that many make decisions in the best interests of some if its people, or themselves.)

There seems to be some real confusion for some about what it means to be a “public servant” here in Frelinghuysenfolly. There also seems to be some confusion about “donations” and the lines of what a true donation is. What is a donation if it has political advancement at its core?

The acceptance of gifts, loans, services at preferential rates, discounts, the granting of special services of favors made directly or indirectly is illegal; and the giving of all these things, in the inverse, is also wrong if it is linked to political gain. In other words, everything about local government should be about eliminating favoritism, corruption, self-dealing, and its related ills; donations of equipment and services motivated by political intent (garnering votes) is not acceptable. However, securing another agent/business to donate these same things, with the understanding that there is no “payback” later for this donation, is perfectly fine. The work can be done, the work can be done for free or greatly reduced cost, and the work can be donated. The question is about WHO is doing the donating. This separation is as at the core of good government and good values; attention to this line would insure that there is no “self-dealing” present at all. (Please note: Amelia is a penny pincher; she is not wealthy, she is a typical American family of 4 trying to make ends meet. Property taxation is very important to her and keeping taxes low, and ethics high, drives her involvement.)

Let it be said that there is no way you can be a volunteer and get paid; that is simply a classic oxymoron. And, donations should be altruistic (for the full public gain), and not for personal gain (or the expectation of things in return like loyalty or votes). If your professional business is, say, grant writing and you donate your services and write a grant for free, but you in turn get paid by the said grant, then this is not a donation; it is a professional investment. And, one might say that donating the grant writing is good business because it could then lead to paid work in another venue. This is all fine because guess what? I am not an elected official. (Important note: the same would be true for an elected official who is writing grants, but is not a professional grant writer; this is not a case of self-dealing!) But if I were an elected official, and I was using grant writing for the town for free as a way to develop more business for my professional work, that would be wrong. Are you with me?

For instance, if I volunteer my time to run an artist-in-residency program at the school, this is an example of a donation with no “return” or “gain” for me personally- the only gain is felt by the artist and the students and the teachers. I gain nothing from my donation except the self knowledge that I helped to make the school environment better for every single student. But it is quite another thing to donate something that you in turn expect votes, political support, or personal business gain from. I would contend that one clear way for public servants to deal with this gray area is to leverage for others to donate their time on behalf of the township (with no payback or promises attached).

There is no doubt that elected officials donate extensive time simply to serve the town for the $4,000 annual pay (of course those who are receiving health insurance with the 99% town co-pay are faring much better financially). The stipend for being an elected official is really an “acknowledgment of service” and we all assume that each person does far beyond that stipend in order to complete the tasks they are assigned. This is the nature of “servant” and means that there is already a culture of “donation” amongst elected officials in small towns.  (And please accept my heartfelt thanks for this donation to our town- it is significant and culturally important!)

When does conflict of interest obscure good intent? There are useful  guides to understanding these lines inside NJSA 2C:27-9 and NJSA 2C:27-10 in which one can read more about unlawful business transactions where interest is involved and the acceptance of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior. But here is a good starting point for developing a utopian vision: elected officials seek volunteers from a range of locations inside the township, and outside, to further initiatives and development rather than relying on themselves. They are already giving enough; use your position to leverage for colleagues or friends to work on your/our behalf. Then, all these issues of self-dealing and conflict of interest, and volunteerism for political gain go away. We get the work donated by professionals, but the donated work is not political.

NOTES FOR NOVEL DEVELOPMENT:

Cited from a “parallel” frelinghuysen blog http://scottofsinope.wordpress.com/about/

“Show me the receipt for the D-10 used. There is none, it was donated. How about the plow used for the sidewalks? Oh, the town doesn’t own one, it is donated by the same person. How about the heater in the town garage? Also donated. How about the tanker used when fixing a road? Also donated.”

Hinky Meter Alert. Is any of this on the public record? If it was for the “good of all the citizens of Frelinghuysenfolly” why would this information not be on the record? I think this is a big bunch of hearsay. If it is not on the public record, if it is not in report form, then it is hearsay right? All hearsay all the time.”

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