Watchdog Report: Disclosing finances / Casino boards' forms posted - Watch Dog Reports

Watchdog Report: Disclosing finances / Casino boards' forms posted - Watch Dog Reports

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Watchdog Report: Disclosing finances / Casino boards' forms posted

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Posted: Friday, January 18, 2013 2:22 pm | Updated: 2:24 pm, Fri Jan 18, 2013.

Contrary to New Jersey law, the state Ethics Commission for five years failed to post to the Internet financial-disclosure forms from key managers of the Division of Gaming Enforcement and Casino Control Commission, officials said.

"We didn't put them online for the policymakers," Ethics Commission Executive Director Peter Tober acknowledged last week.

The oversight, which was brought to the commission's attention by The Press of Atlantic City, was corrected as of Friday, Tober said.

"I appreciate you bringing this to my attention," he said.

In 2007, the Legislature passed a bill that changed financial-disclosure reporting requirements for the Division of Gaming Enforcement and Casino Control Commission. While the legislation exempted some employees from having their financial disclosure forms posted to the Internet, it also required forms from anyone with "policy-making management" responsibilities to be posted.

But instead of removing from the Internet the forms for nonpolicy-making employees -- as stipulated in the law -- the state Ethics Commission stopped posting to its website all financial disclosure forms from the DGE or Casino Control Commission.

Tober, who arrived at the agency in 2011, said the Ethics Commission had been concerned about going too far and posting the forms of employees exempted from the requirements. He said ethics staff last week asked the two agencies to identify those employees with policy-making management responsibilities, and their financial disclosure forms were then made public on the ethics website.

David Rebuck, director of the DGE, already had his disclosure form posted to the Ethics Commission's website, filed under the broader Department of Law and Public Safety listing. Disclosure forms for fellow division officials Mary Flaherty, George Rover and Joan Sampson now join his on the website in the Law and Public Safety Department, while Richard Handzo is the only employee filed under the DGE.

Tober said that in the future the ethics commission will ask all gaming enforcement employees to file under the same category.

Other officials that now have all of their financial disclosure forms posted on the Internet include Casino Control Commission member Sharon Anne Harrington and former members Linda Kassekert and Edward Fanelle, who left their posts earlier this month. Others who also would fall into the category include the commission's chief of staff, David Scanlan, and Director of Regulatory Affairs James Fehon.

Financial disclosure forms are the government's way of encouraging transparency and avoiding conflict of interest by requiring public officials to be upfront about their personal finances, including what governmental and occupational positions they and family members hold.

Nearly all public officials are required to file financial disclosure forms, although depending on the position, the forms are slightly different and in some cases are reviewed by different bodies -- the state Ethics Commission, Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards and Department of Community Affairs.

The state Ethics Commission reviews forms from state agencies and the executive branch, while the Legislature has its own set of financial disclosure forms for members of the Assembly and Senate. Both of those bodies post the completed forms on their websites.

Meanwhile, the Department of Community Affairs' Local Finance Board -- which is charged with issuing and reviewing yet a third set of financial disclosure forms from county and local municipal officials -- is in the process of reviewing its forms.

While the deadline for those forms was April 30, the Local Finance Board extended the deadline to June 29 and needs another month to post all of the forms to the Internet, DCA spokeswoman Tammori Petty said.

"We received thousands of emails as of June 30 (deadline for filing the forms with us) with tens of thousands of copies of disclosure forms, and we do not have them available for review yet," Petty wrote in an email. "We are working as quickly as we can to open the emails, sort them, file them and put them on the Web for folks to review."

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