Toughest Pay-To-Play Reform Approved In New Jersey

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Pay-To-Play Reform

Atlantic County government approved an ordinance for public contracting reform hailed as the toughest and most comprehensive of its kind in the State of New Jersey.

The Public Contracting ("Pay-to-Play") Reform was initiated by County Executive Dennis Levinson as part of his year-long government integrity agenda designed to encourage citizen participation and formalize, by county ordinances, county policies and practices that ensure public trust and confidence in the integrity of county government.

The county is being assisted in this effort by the Citizens' Campaign, a volunteer movement chaired by Harry Pozycki, a former Democratic freeholder chairman in Middlesex County, that works to advance citizen leadership and government accountability.

"With the unanimous passage of this ordinance, Atlantic County stands at the forefront as a model of government accountability," stated County Executive Levinson. "We have ensured our residents that their government will remain open and accessible to them, law-abiding, and protected against outside influence. We encourage our local government and other counties to follow our example."

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"I commend County Executive Levinson for his leadership and vision in recognizing the significance of this ordinance," said Pozycki. "Citizens need to have trust in their government and its leaders. By passing the toughest Pay-to-Play ordinance in the state, Atlantic County has assured its residents of such, and set a standard for others to emulate."

The ordinance was first introduced by Levinson to the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders on July 31, 2007 and included "anti-wheeling" provisions, the first of its kind to be proposed by a New Jersey county, and the fourth provision of the county executive's government integrity agenda. Wheeling is the process that allows those who wish to make undetected political contributions to do so via a third party with the understanding that it will be "wheeled" back to the candidate for whom it was intended without identifying the original source.

As approved in its final form, the ordinance limits county government from awarding professional service contracts to business entities that contribute more than $300 to any current elected county official or candidate for elected county office, including the county executive, the freeholders, or any constitutional officer. Furthermore, any business entity who wants to do business with county government is required to file a contribution statement that certifies its compliance with the ordinance. The ordinance includes a "cure" provision that allows a business to seek and receive a reimbursement of any contribution that was made in error. These provisions do not apply to public bid contracts or competitive contracts which include existing safeguards to provide protection against favoritism.

The ordinance's penalty provision outlines a list of prohibited activities. Those found in violation risk being disqualified from bidding on current and future contracts for as long as four years.

The ordinance provides nine anti-wheeling provisions that specifically limit the amount of contributions candidates for elected county office may receive.

"I am extremely proud of this ordinance," stated Levinson, "and I appreciate the efforts of our freeholders and county legal staff as well as Harry Pozycki and his staff to make this a reality. As a result of our hard work, Atlantic County citizens can be assured that these benchmarks of accountability will be in effect for years to come. Atlantic County has again proven that it holds itself to a higher standard of responsible government."

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