Rice Bill To Ensure Greater Accountability In Local Contracts Approved

Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee Chair, Senator Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, speaks at a meeting of his committee.

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Ronald L. Rice which would require that local contracts must be approved by a majority of the full membership of the municipal council, as opposed to a majority of council members present, was unanimously approved by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee today.

“Government must be accountable to the people – all the people – when dealing with the people’s money,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “In my opinion, any interpretation of existing law which violates this basic spirit of government accountability is wrong. New Jersey’s taxpayers need to have the assurances of their local leaders that government is operating by the rules, and not using legal semantics to pass fly-by-night contracts which aren’t in the public’s interest.”

The bill, S-1026, clarifies that, under the “Faulkner Act,” the adoption of any resolution approving a municipal contract which is submitted by the mayor in a “mayor-council” form of government must be approved by a majority of the full municipal council, not just a majority of members present. This bill would only apply to the 67 municipalities which are governed under the “Faulkner Act” in New Jersey. Under current law, all municipal ordinances must be approved in this manner, but the law is silent when it comes to resolutions.

Senator Rice noted that this bill is in response to a June, 2007 issue in Newark, when four of six members present of the 9-member Newark Council approved a resolution put forth by Mayor Cory Booker to increase a legal contract to a law firm to $1.8 million. The Booker Administration argued that a majority of a quorum was enough to pass a resolution under State law. While the resolution was eventually returned and approved by a majority of the Council, Senator Rice said that it was necessary to clarify existing law, so that “separation of powers is maintained, and the people of a municipality aren’t railroaded by a minority faction of government.

“As a former City Councilman in Newark, I take great exception to the fact that Mayor Booker believed he could push a contract increase through without getting the approval of a majority of Newark’s council,” said Senator Rice. “In the United States of America, we do not have royalty, and no local official should have the right to commit taxpayer dollars without approval of the people’s representatives – the municipal council. This bill clarifies the intent of existing rules, and ensures that moving forward, all contract discussions are done in a fair and accountable process.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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