TRENTON, N.J. - New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner led Mercer County's first ethics training seminar last night for high-level County staff, constitutional officers, and members of County boards and commissions.
County Executive Brian M. Hughes called for the seminar, saying ethics training was the keystone to keeping Mercer County government open and accountable to taxpayers.
Hughes told the audience at the John T. Dempster Fire Service Training Center in Lawrence the seminar follows his Administration's promise of transparency and follows the hiring of Mercer's first inspector general in 2005 and becoming the first county in the state to pass a pay-to-play ban.
"We have sent a clear message that we are serious about ethics and that the old way of doing things is out," Hughes said. "In prior administrations here in Mercer County, we saw those who chose self-interest over public interest. I don't ever want Mercer County during my administration to besmirch the public's view of government."
Rabner, who was unanimously confirmed to serve as the Attorney General by the State Senate in September 2006, told County employees and board members that corruption could start innocently.
"It can begin with a friendly dinner, an offer of free tickets, or through an extension of a professional relationship with someone doing business with the County," he said. "I offer a simple rule - take nothing for free."
Rabner, who also served as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark for nearly 20 years before being appointed Attorney General, said following simple, common sense guidelines could help public servants from compromising ethical boundaries.
Rabner said business meetings should be held in government offices rather than in private locations, accurate recordings of bids and contracts should be maintained, and random fiscal and performance audits should be conducted.
Rabner encouraged everyone in public service to notify his office, the FBI, or the New Jersey State Police if they witness or suspect corruption.
He also said anyone who is unclear about what is proper or improper to consult Robert Farkas, the County Inspector General.
"This ethics training and these rules serve as roadblocks, a deterrent to anyone who thinks of defrauding taxpayers," Rabner said.
Other speakers included Kevin Michels, an attorney and professor at The College of New Jersey, Stephen Orlofsky, a former U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey, and Michael Fedorko, vice-chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
The seminar also covered topics such as conflicts of interest, mandatory disclosures of interests and conflicts, reporting improper attempts to influence board actions, hiring of personnel, recusal, compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act, compliance with pay-to-play laws, and financial disclosure forms.
A 21-page packet containing information on local government ethics law, the Sunshine Law, and other ethics topics was distributed and is available for all County employees and appointees, Hughes said.
The seminar was also recorded and must be viewed by sitting members of County boards and commissions or potential appointees to those boards, Hughes said.