Zoning Board Members May Be Disqualified Based Upon Their Association with the Mayor. When the Mayor Actively Campaigned Against a Variance Application.
The New Jersey Appellate Division recently held in Central 25, LLC v. Zoning Board of City of Union City(Docket No. A-0263-17t1) that two members of the Union City Zoning Board of Adjustment may have been disqualified from a vote because of their positions with the Union City Mayor’s Association. In the July 24, 2019 decision, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded the trial court ruling that there were no grounds to disturb the Zoning Board’s decision.
The case involves a variance application. The Union City Mayor, Brian P. Stack, released a letter to Union City residents expressing his opposition. The Zoning Board stated that they would not take the Mayor’s letter into consideration, but voted to deny the application. At the time of the vote, two Board members were high-ranking members of the Brian Stack Civic Association; as the Chief Executive Officer and Vice President.
The plaintiff challenged the decision, arguing that the Board members should have recused themselves from the vote due to a conflict of interest. The trial court rejected plaintiff’s argument, stating that merely being a member of an association would not disallow someone from being a member of a zoning board. In reversing, Judge Fuentes relied on a recent New Jersey Supreme Court case, Piscitelli v. City of Garfield Zoning Board of Adjustment, 237 N.J. 333 (2019) (A-68 September Term 2017, 079900). In that case, the Court held that a public official must disqualify himself from a vote whenever there is a potential for a conflict of interest that may impede his impartiality. Applying that standard, Judge Fuentes, taking into consideration the high-level positions with the association, the mayor’s active campaign against the application, and the public’s view of factors that may impair impartiality, held that there needed to be an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the application’s rejection should be affirmed or vacated.
After this ruling, members of Zoning Boards, Boards of Education, and other similar government bodies should continue to be aware of the potential for conflicts of interest, considering whether the public would believe a member has conflict of interest.
If you have any questions or concerns about conflicts of interest in the government context, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Government Services Practice Group at Laddey, Clark & Ryan, LLP: Thomas N. Ryan, Esq. (email@example.com), Ursula H. Leo, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org), Angelo J. Bolcato, Esq. (email@example.com), Jonathan N. Frodella, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jessica A. Jansyn, Esq. (email@example.com), Janet C. Lucas, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Jonathan E. McMeen, Esq. (email@example.com). Our attorneys can also be reached by phone at (973) 729-1880.