[HISTORY: Adopted by the City Council of the City of Trenton 8-16-2012 by Ord. No. 12-25. Amendments noted where applicable.]
As used in this chapter, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
- The Trenton Ethics Board.
- BUSINESS ORGANIZATION
- Any corporation, partnership, fun, enterprise, franchise, association, trust, sole proprietorship, union or other legal entity.
- GOVERNING BODY
- The City Council of the City of Trenton; Mercer County, New Jersey.
- The ownership or control of more than 10% of the profits, assets or stock of a business organization or any interest whatsoever which yields directly or indirectly to the local government officer or employee or member of his/her immediate family a monetary or other material benefit but shall not include the control of assets in a nonprofit entity or labor union.
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY
- The City of Trenton, and any such agency, board, or commission or other instrumentality thereof, and any independent local authority, including any entity created by more than one county or municipality, which performs functions other than of a purely advisory nature, but shall not include a school board.
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE
- Any person, whether compensated or not, whether part time or full time, employed by or serving a local government agency, who is not a local government officer, but shall not mean any employee or a school district.
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICER
- Any person, whether compensated or not, whether part time or full time:
- A. Elected to any office of the City of Trenton;
- B. Serving on a local governmental agency which has the authority to enact ordinances, approve development applications or grant zoning variances;
- C. Who is a member of an independent municipal, county or regional authority;
- D. Who is a managerial executive or confidential employee of a local government agency, as defined in Section 3 of the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, P.L. 1941, c. 100 (N.J.S.A. 34:13A-3), and members of various boards, committees, authorities and commissions as set forth in the Rules and Regulations of the Municipal Ethics Board, but shall not mean any employees of a school district or member of a school board.
- MEMBER OF IMMEDIATE FAMILY
- The spouse, domestic partner, partner in civil union, blood or adopted relative of a local government officer or employee residing in the same household.
No more than three members of the ethics board shall be of the same political party, at least two of whom shall be public members.
The members of the Trenton Ethics Board shall annually elect a chairman from among the membership.
The members shall serve for a term of five years, except that of the members initially appointed, two of the public members shall be appointed to serve for a term of five years, one member shall be appointed to serve for a term of four years, and the remaining members shall be appointed to serve for a term of three years. Each member shall serve until his successor has been appointed and qualified. Any vacancy occurring in the membership of the Ethics Board shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointment for the unexpired term.
Members of the Trenton Ethics Board shall serve without compensation but shall be reimbursed by the municipality for necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties under this chapter.
[Amended 4-18-2019 by Ord. No. 19-25]
Title; application. This section shall be known as the "Code of Ethics."
This Code of Ethics shall apply to all officials, employees, professionals, and contractors as defined in this section.
This Code of Ethics does not apply to independent contractors of the City.
This Code of Ethics applies to members of all City boards, committees or commissions as defined in this section.
This Code of Ethics applies to the conduct or actions of public officers, as defined in this section, which occurs in whole or in part after the date of adoption of this section.
This Code of Ethics applies to officers only while such persons hold such position or office.
Definitions. The following words, terms, and phrases, when used in this section, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning.
- Anything reasonably regarded as pecuniary or economic gain or pecuniary or economic advantage, including benefit to any other person in whose welfare the beneficiary has a direct and substantial interest.
- BUSINESS ENTITY
- Any person, entity, corporation (whether for-profit or nonprofit), general or limited partnership, sole proprietorship, joint venture, unincorporated association or firm, institution, trust, foundation, holding company, joint-stock company, receivership, or other entity recognized by law, whether or not organized for profit, which has an economic interest, or seeking such, in conducting business with the City. "Business entity" also includes any business entity that represents a party conducting or seeking to conduct business with the City.
- The City of Trenton, New Jersey.
- CITY COUNCIL
- The governing body of the City.
- CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
- Any information to which an official has access in such person's official capacity which may not be disclosed to the public except pursuant to state and/or federal law and which is not otherwise a matter of public record or public knowledge. Confidential information includes the following information, however transmitted:
- (1) Any information from a meeting closed to the public pursuant to the New Jersey Open Meetings Act, or other law regardless of whether disclosure violates the Open Meetings Act;
- (2) Governing body work product;
- (3) Any information protected by attorney-client or other applicable legal privilege; and
- (4) Any information deemed confidential by law.
- Any lease, claim, account or demand against or agreement with any entity or person, whether express or implied, executed or executory, oral or written.
- Any person employed by the City, including those individuals on a part-time or internship basis, but does not include independent contractors.
- Anything of value (over $25), regardless of form, offered or given in the absence of adequate and lawful consideration. It does not include the receipt or acceptance of campaign contributions which are regulated by federal, state, and/or local laws or ordinances.
- A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to the nature of the person's conduct or to circumstances surrounding the conduct when the person is aware of the nature of the conduct or that the circumstances exist. A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to a result of the person's conduct whether the person is aware that the conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result.
- OFFICER or OFFICIAL
- Any member of the City Council and any appointed member of a City board, commission or committee established by ordinance, charter, state law or otherwise, on a temporary or permanent basis, operating either under the direct or indirect authority to act as a representative of the City of Trenton, its organizations or departments.
- Relating to or consisting of money.
- Any person related to an officer within the second degree by ancestry or marriage. This relationship includes the spouse, parents, children, stepchildren, father- and mother-in-law, or son- and daughter-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, sisters and brothers of the officer.
- SPECIAL PRIVILEGES
- A right, advantage or favor of or for a particular person, occasion or purpose not otherwise available to others.
- SUBSTANTIAL INTEREST
- The ownership of 10% or more of the voting stock or shares of a business entity; the ownership of 10% or more, or $10,000 or more of the fair market value of a business entity; or funds received from the business entity exceed 10% of the person's gross income for the previous year, and action on the matter involving the business entity will have a special economic effect on the business entity that is distinguishable from the effect on the public. It is expressly provided herein that an investment or ownership in a publicly held company in an amount less than $10,000 does not constitute a substantial interest. Substantial interest in real property means the person has an interest in the real property that is equitable or legal ownership with a fair market value of $2,500 or more; and it is reasonably foreseeable that an action on a matter involving the real property will have a special economic effect on the value of the real property distinguishable from its effect on the public. (Ownership includes any partnership, joint or corporate ownership or any equitable or beneficial interest as a beneficiary of a trust.) An officer is considered to have a substantial interest under this Code of Ethics if a person related to the officer in the second degree of ancestry or marriage has a substantial interest under this Code of Ethics.
Standards of conduct. No officer of the City or a relative thereof shall:
Have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract with the City nor shall such person be financially interested, directly or indirectly, in the sale to the City of any land, or rights or interest in any land, materials, supplies or service. The "financial interest" contemplated under this section requires that such person receive an actual financial benefit from the transaction with the City. An actual financial benefit from the transaction shall include:
Participate in a vote or decision on any matter in which the officer has a substantial interest.
Represent or appear on behalf of private interests of others before the City Council, or any agency, board, commission, corporation, or committee of the City, nor shall represent any private interests of others in any action or proceeding involving the City, nor voluntarily participate on behalf of others in any litigation to which the City is, or might be, an adverse party. The restrictions of this Subsection C(3) do not prohibit an officer, or relative of an officer, who is the president, vice president or officer of a homeowners' association from appearing before the City Council or any agency, board, commission, or committee of the City to represent such homeowners' association, except that no such officer or relative of such officer shall appear before the agency, board, commission or committee of the City of which such officer is a member.
Accept any gift from any person that might reasonably tend to influence such officer in the discharge of such person's official duties. The prohibition against gifts shall not apply to:
A lawful campaign contribution in accordance with the laws of the State of New Jersey;
An honorarium in consideration for services, unless the officer would not have been asked to provide the services but for the officer's position;
Meals, lodging, transportation in connection with services rendered by the officer at a conference, seminar or similar event that is more than merely an action or gesture carried out with a minimum of effort;
Complimentary copies of trade publications and other related materials;
Any gift which would have been offered or given to the person if such person was not an officer or employee of the City;
An occasional item with a value less than $25;
Gifts because of kinship or a personal, or professional, or business relationship independent of the officer's status;
Complimentary attendance at political or charitable fund-raising events; and
Meals, lodging, transportation, or entertainment furnished in connection with public events, appearances or ceremonies related to official City business, if furnished by the sponsor of such public events.
Use such person's official position to secure special privileges, employment or benefits for such person or others.
Grant any special consideration, treatment or advantage to any citizen, individual, business organization or group beyond that which is normally available to every other citizen, individual, business organization or group.
Disclose confidential or privileged information or any other information not readily available for public access.
Engage in any outside activities which will conflict with or will be incompatible with such person's official position or duties as an officer of the City. Any department director or division head who is engaged in outside employment must submit written notice of said employment to the Director of Personnel who shall review to determine whether or not a conflict of interest exists.
Use City supplies, personnel, property, equipment or facilities (whether tangible or intangible) for any purpose other than the conduct of official City business, unless otherwise provided for by law, ordinance or City policy.
Act as a surety on any official bond required for any officer or employee of the City, or for a business that has a contract, work or business with the City.
No member of the City Council who is on the board of a nonprofit organization may vote on any funding request by that nonprofit organization, unless the nonprofit organization has a board of directors or trustees appointed in whole or in part by the City Council.
With the exception of those proceedings allowed under this section, no member of the City Council shall personally appear in such person's own behalf before the City Council, or any City board, commission, corporation or committee, but may designate and be represented by a person of such person's choice in any such personal matter.
No member of the City Council, the City Planning Board, or City Zoning Board shall participate in or vote on any land use matter in which such officer has a substantial interest in any real property within 200 feet of the real property, the subject of the land use matter. For purposes of this Subsection D(3), "land use matter" shall mean zoning, plat approval, site plan or other development approvals or permits, variances or exceptions. The term "land use matter" does not include studies or similar matters that are for the benefit of the City and which are not unique to real property within 200 feet of the real property, the subject of the land use matter, in which the officer has a substantial interest.
Disclosure of substantial interest. Any officer who has a substantial interest in any matter pending before the body, board, commission, corporation or committee of which the officer is a member, before a vote or decision on such matter, shall file an affidavit stating the nature and extent of the substantial interest, and shall abstain from further participation in such matter. The affidavit shall be on a form provided by the City and must be filed with the record keeper for such body, board, commission, corporation or committee.
Complaints against officers.
All complaints or allegations of a violation of this Code of Ethics against an officer or employee shall be made in writing on a form provided by the City, sworn to before a notary public, and filed on record with the City Clerk. Such complaint shall describe in detail the act or acts complained of and the specific section(s) of this Code of Ethics alleged to have been violated. A general complaint lacking in detail shall not be sufficient to invoke the investigation procedures contained herein; and anonymous complaints shall not be considered. The City Clerk shall provide a copy of the complaint to the affected officer and the Ethics Board, and immediately refer the complaint to the Law Director and/or Personnel Officer, who shall initially review the complaint to determine if the complaint contains sufficient detail and alleges a violation of the Code of Ethics. The affected officer or employee may file a written response to the complaint within seven business days after the complaint is filed with the City Clerk, who shall forward the response, if any, to the Ethics Board, the Law Director and/or Personnel Officer.
When the City Clerk receives a vague complaint or one lacking in detail, the Law Director, or their designee, shall contact the complainant to request a written clarification. If the complainant fails to provide the written clarification, or if, after written clarification is provided, it is the opinion of the Law Director that the complaint is insufficient in detail and/or fails to allege a prima facie violation of the Code of Ethics, a written report to that effect shall be submitted to the City Council. If the Law Director determines that a criminal violation may exist, he/she shall refer the matter to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
If the Ethics Board recommends that further disciplinary action be taken, it shall submit a written report to the City Clerk as soon as possible but not later than 15 business days after considering the complaint, unless an extension is granted by a majority of the nonimplicated City Council members. Such report shall be comprehensive and explain in detail all facts, findings, and conclusions in support of the Ethics Board's opinion as to whether or not a violation of this Code of Ethics occurred and shall be forwarded to the City Council and the Law Director.
If the Ethics Board recommends that no further disciplinary action be taken, and the matter does not pertain to the filing of a financial disclosure, the affected officer may appeal the decision of the Ethics Board to the City Council by filing a written notice of appeal with the City Clerk no later than 15 business days after the Ethics Board has made its determination.
If it is determined by the City Council, by clear and convincing evidence, that the facts as alleged constitute a violation of this Code of Ethics, or the City Council decides to hear an appeal, the City Council shall notify the Mayor of the existence and nature of the complaint. The City Council shall cause a meeting to convene, whether regular or special, within 15 business days after receiving the report to further consider said complaint in executive session. The City Council shall consider the complaint and the Ethics Board's report at an executive session of the City Council. The affected officer may request that the complaint be considered in a public meeting [RICE notice]. At such meeting, the Law Director shall present a written report to the City Council describing in detail the nature of the complaint and the Ethics Board's findings and conclusions as to the violation of this Code of Ethics. The affected officer shall have the right to a full and complete hearing before the City Council. The nonimplicated City Council members in attendance shall conduct a hearing and review the complaint. The City Council may reject the findings and penalties prescribed by of the Ethics Board and/or take action authorized under Subsection G, Violations.
No action or decision regarding the complaint shall be made except in a meeting which is open to the public.
The City Council may appoint outside legal counsel or may direct the Law Director to appoint outside legal counsel, or the Law Director, in the Law Director's discretion, may appoint outside legal counsel, to perform the duties and responsibilities of the Law Director under Subsection F(2), (3) and (4) of this section.
A complaint or allegation of a violation of this section may only be made against an officer while such person holds such position or office. A complaint made against an officer pursuant to this section shall be processed and resolved even if such person resigns from or ceases to hold such position or office, prior to resolution of the complaint.
Violations. The City Council may take any one or more of the following actions in an open meeting concerning a complaint:
Issue a statement finding the complaint is totally without merit, brought for the purpose of harassment, or brought in bad faith.
Issue a letter of notification when the violation is unintentional. A letter of notification shall advise the officer of any steps to be taken to avoid future violations.
Issue a letter of admonition when the violation is minor or may have been unintentional but calls for a more substantial response than a letter of notification.
Issue a reprimand when a violation has been committed knowingly or intentionally. A copy of the reprimand shall be placed in the personnel record of any employee or officer and shall be considered permanent.
Remove from office an employee or officer, other than a City Council member or the Mayor, for a serious or repeated violation of this Code of Ethics. Removal shall be, to the extent by and allowed, in compliance with the City Code and New Jersey state law.
Pass a resolution of censure when the City Council finds that a serious or repeated violation of this Code of Ethics has been committed intentionally by a member of the City Council or pass a resolution recommending recall when the City Council finds that a serious or repeated violation of this Code of Ethics has been committed intentionally by the Mayor.
Interpretation of content. Any officer may request, and the Law Director shall issue, a verbal or written opinion (as deemed appropriate) concerning the meaning or effect of any section, word, or requirement of this Code of Ethics as it affects such person.
Review. The City Council shall review this section once every two years following its adoption on April 18, 2019.
The Trenton Ethics Board shall have the following powers:
To initiate, receive, hear and review complaints and hold hearings with regard to possible violations of the City of Trenton Code of Ethics or financial disclosure requirements by local government officers or employees serving the City of Trenton;
To issue subpoenas for the production of documents and the attendance of witnesses with respect to its investigation of any complaint or to the holding of a hearing;
To forward to the Mercer County prosecutor or the Attorney General or other governmental body any information concerning violations of the City of Trenton municipal Code of Ethics or financial disclosure requirements by local government officers or employees serving the City of Trenton which may become the subject of criminal prosecution or which may warrant the institution of other legal proceedings by the Attorney General;
To render advisory opinions to local government officers or employees serving the City of Trenton as to whether a given set of facts and circumstances would constitute a violation of any provision of the municipal code of ethics or financial disclosure requirements;
To enforce the provisions of the municipal Code of Ethics and financial disclosure requirements with regard to local government officers or employees serving the City and to impose penalties for the violation thereof as are authorized by this act; and
To adopt rules and regulations and to do other things as are necessary to implement the purposes of this chapter.
A local government officer or employee serving the City of Trenton may request and obtain from the Trenton Ethics Board an advisory opinion as to whether any proposed activity or conduct would in its opinion constitute a violation of the municipal Code of Ethics or any financial disclosure requirements. Advisory opinions of the Trenton Ethics Board shall not be made public, except when the Ethics Board by the vote of 2/3 of all of its members directs that the opinion be made public. Public advisory opinions shall not disclose the name of the local government officer or employee unless the Ethics Board, in directing that the opinion be made public so determines.
The Trenton Ethics Board, upon receipt of a signed written complaint by any person alleging that the conduct of any local government officer or employee serving the City of Trenton is in conflict with the municipal Code of Ethics or financial disclosure requirements, shall acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 30 days of receipt and initiate an investigation concerning the facts and circumstances set forth in the complaint. The Trenton Ethics Board shall make a determination as to whether the complaint is within its jurisdiction or frivolous or without any reasonable factual basis. If the Ethics Board shall conclude that the complaint is outside its jurisdiction, frivolous or without factual basis, it shall reduce that conclusion to writing and shall transmit a copy thereof to the complainant and to the local government officer or employee against whom the complaint was filed. Otherwise, the Ethics Board shall notify the local government officer or employee against whom the complaint was filed of the nature of the complaint and the facts and circumstances set forth therein. The officer or employee shall have the opportunity to present the Ethics Board with any statement or information concerning the complaint which he wishes. Thereafter, if the Ethics Board determines that a reasonable doubt exists as to whether the local government officer or employee is in conflict with the municipal Code of Ethics or any financial disclosure requirements, it shall conduct a hearing in the manner prescribed by § 70-4 of this chapter, concerning the possible violation and any other facts and circumstances which may have come to its attention with respect to the conduct of the local government officer or employee. The Trenton Ethics Board shall render a decision as to whether the conduct of the officer or employee is in conflict with the municipal Code of Ethics or any financial disclosure requirements. This decision shall be made by no less than 2/3 of all members of the Ethics Board.
If the Ethics Board determines that the officer or employee is in conflict with the Code or any financial disclosure requirements, it may impose any penalties which it believes appropriate within the limitations of this chapter. A final decision of the Ethics Board may be appealed to the Local Finance Board within 30 days of the decision.
All statements, complaints, requests or other written materials filed pursuant to this chapter, and any rulings, opinions, judgments, transcripts or other official papers prepared pursuant to this chapter, shall be preserved for a period of at least five years from the date of filing or preparation, as the case may be.
An appointed local government officer or employee found guilty by the Trenton Ethics Board of the violation of any provision of this chapter or of any Code of Ethics in effect pursuant to this chapter shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500, which penalty may be collected in a summary proceeding pursuant to the penalty enforcement law (N.J.S.A. 2A:58-10 et seq.). The Trenton Ethics Board shall report its findings to the office or agency having the power of removal or discipline of the appointed local government officer or employee and may recommend that further disciplinary action be taken.
An elected local government officer or employee found guilty by the Trenton Ethics Board of the violation of any provision of this chapter or of any Code of Ethics in effect pursuant to this chapter shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500, which penalty may be collected in a summary proceeding pursuant to the penalty enforcement law (N.J.S.A. 2A:58-10 et seq.).
The finding by the Local Finance Board or Trenton Ethics Board that an appointed local government officer or employee is guilty of the violation of the provisions of this chapter, or of any Code of Ethics in effect pursuant to this chapter, shall be sufficient cause for his removal, suspension, demotion or other disciplinary action by the officer or agency having the power of removal or discipline. When a person who is in the career service is charged with violating the provisions of this chapter, or of any Code of Ethics in effect pursuant to this chapter, the procedure lending to removal, suspension, demotion or other disciplinary action shall be governed by any applicable procedures of Title 11A of the New Jersey Statutes and the rules promulgated pursuant thereto.
All hearings required pursuant to this chapter shall be conducted in conformity with the rules and procedures, insofar as they may be applicable, provided for hearings by a state agency in contested cases under the Administrative Procedure Act, P.L. 1968, c. 410 (N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 et seq.).
The governing body of the municipality shall provide the Trenton Ethics Board with offices for the conduct of its business and the preservation of its records, and shall supply equipment and supplies as may be necessary.
All necessary expenses incurred by the Board and its members shall be paid, upon certification of the chairman, by the municipal treasurer within the limits of funds appropriated by the municipal governing body by annual or emergency appropriations for those purposes.
The Board may appoint employees, including independent counsel and clerical staff, as are necessary to carry out the provisions of this chapter within the limits of funds appropriated by the municipal governing body for those purposes.