Trenton NJ – By Tyler Daniels
You don’t need to look far beyond last week’s headlines to find a story of corruption in New Jersey.
Correspondent Tyler Daniels went back to his home state in an attempt to figure out why New Jersey’s history — both recent and past — has been so plagued by scandal.
Mayor Jackson: This is a regular conference meeting of the township of Montclair.
I went to Montclair, to sit in on a town council meeting. I wanted to ask elected officials and residents about this culture of corruption.
I found Robert Russo, currently deputy mayor of Montclair, former mayor, and probable future gubernatorial candidate. I asked him: how easy is it to to get caught up in these traps? His response: VERY EASY.
Russo: One time I was given a check or a donation by developer, I returned it, in an election way back – and I just said you know, you’re going to come before me I’m going to be on the planning board, I’m going to be voting – I can’t have a potential even a potential appearance of conflict, even an appearance of conflict.
In a state where corruption is so commonplace, the slightest scent of wrongdoing can set off alarms with voters.
For Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, one way to help elected officials avoid corruption is to make the positions part-time, paid with a modest stipend.
Bakersville: You get a different type of person when people are volunteering I think. I think that the people that would run here, in Montclair would be totally different if they were paid.
In neighboring municipalities, like Newark, council members can make upwards of 80 thousand dollars a year. Baskerville thinks this can attract people to public service for the wrong reasons.
Though Professor Brian Murphy says that part time officials might also face perverse incentives while in office.
Murphy: Part of the problem with having part time officials is they all have day jobs… and if they have day jobs that can be made to be compatible with their public roles you have a similar problem.
And Murphy says that ultimately, the solution is transparency from the government and engagement from citizens demanding accountability. Citizens like, Frank Rubacky, who spoke up at the meeting last night.
Rubacky: Montclair is a type of community where there is more involvement than a typical community and that helps …
One would hope it helps, anyway.
Mayor Jackson: Motion to adjourn, all in favor ? I.
Tyler Daniels, Columbia Radio News.