So ... let's say there is a rundown, abandoned building in your town. The building has been rotting for more than a decade. The paint is peeling. The glass is missing on several windows. There's even a giant hole in the roof.
Sounds like a building with some code-enforcement issues, right?
The neighbors want the building demolished. But, lo and behold, in the process of seeking that demolition, they find out that the city code-enforcement officer - the fellow who is in charge of ... well, enforcing city codes on the clearly derelict property - actually owns the tax lien certificate for the building.
Imagine that. Think the code-enforcement officer just might have a bit of a conflict of interest here?
Well, residents of Linwood don't have to imagine that scenario. It actually happened. And it's outrageous. So outrageous that as soon as the whole thing came to light, Linwood Code Enforcement Officer Edward Beck quickly sold the tax lien certificate for the abandoned American Legion building on West Elm Avenue back to the city.
No harm, no foul? Perhaps. But what if Beck's involvement with the property - he bought the tax lien certificate at auction in 2010 for $325 at an 18 percent interest rate - had remained hidden? Neighborhood residents would be negotiating with the city over what to do with the building, while a city employee who would be involved in those discussions had a financial interest in the property.
This was an obvious conflict of interest that never should have been allowed to occur.
As Keith Bonchi, the general counsel for the New Jersey Tax Collectors and Treasurers Association, told Press staff writer Elisa Lala: "If the city had approved the building demolition or decided to take out additional liens on the property, it could have negatively affected Beck's investment. I don't see how he could do his job. He'd be testifying on behalf of the city and policing himself."
That conflict should have been clear to everyone - and the assertion that Linwood officials didn't know of Beck's involvement in the property is difficult to believe. Tax sales are public events. Surely, someone in City Hall - if not several people - had to know that the city's code-enforcement officer had purchased the tax-lien certificate on a property with code issues.
Somewhat amusingly, when first questioned about the American Legion property, Beck told Lala it would be a conflict of interest for him to speak about the issue.
Sorry, Mr. Beck. Speaking about the building wasn't the conflict. Purchasing a tax lien certificate in the town where you serve as code-enforcement officer was the conflict. And Linwood taxpayers should be asking how this was ever allowed to happen in the first place.