Ethics complaint dismissed against Mayor, councilwoman

Board finds no reasonable factual basis for accusation


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BY BRETT LAKE
— A state ethics board ruled last week Sparta Mayor Molly Whilesmith and Councilwoman Christine Quinn were not in err of any ethics laws for their respective participation in accepting the resignation of a former township manager following an alleged threat-involved incident last year.

The State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs investigated the matter after the complaint was filed by a former councilmember.

“Following a preliminary investigation and evaluation of the facts and circumstances relevant to this complaint and upon consideration of the foregoing provisions of the Local Government Ethics Law, the Local Finance Board voted to dismiss this complaint for having no reasonable factual basis,” Local Finance Board Chair Thomas H. Neff wrote in the May 15 letter to Whilesmith.

Separate but similar letters were sent to both Quinn and Whilesmith.

It was alleged that Whilesmith, then the deputy mayor, and Quinn, violated local government ethics law when they participated in official capacity in both executive and open sessions last August regarding the employment of former Township Manager David Troast.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sparta Aug. 15, it was alleged that Troast made comments to Quinn which indicated that he followed her to the ceremony. It is also alleged that Troast, in conversation at the ceremony, discussed getting his gun repaired at a shop, the findings state.

Quinn filed a citizen’s complaint with the Sparta Police Department later that day regarding “a threat stemming from Mr. Troast’s comments at the ribbon cutting,” according to the local finance board’s letter.

“Any member of the community is entitled to file a complaint with the police department when that member of the community feels as though a crime has been committed,” Neff wrote. He also noted that the report was not filed by Whilesmith, nor did she provide a statement to police concerning the report.

Whilesmith said she is pleased the complaint was dismissed and is focused on moving forward.

“I respect the right of any citizen to hold their public officials accountable but I do expect that a complaint be based on facts, not fiction,” Whilesmith said.

Quinn provided the following comment to The Sparta Independent in response to a request for comment.

"While I appreciate the opportunity to provide a statement on this matter, I will respectfully defer. The fact that the charges were dismissed is statement enough. I appreciate the time and effort spent by all parties involved in the investigation, and respect their findings. With this issue now resolved, focus can return to the positive initiatives currently underway within Sparta Township,” Quinn wrote.

The complaint was filed by former Sparta Councilman Michael Spekhardt Nov. 7, 2013.

Spekhardt, who served on the Township council from 2006 to 2010, said he was disappointed with the board’s finding though not surprised.

Spekhardt said he filed the complaint in November 2013, following a series of events involving the council that he thought an outside agency should look in to.

He said that Quinn and Whitesmith should have recused themselves from any proceeding dealing with Troast’s resignation.

“Hopefully as a group they review how they handle themselves carrying out their duties,” Spekhardt said.

The council accepted Troast’s resignation Aug. 27. Whilesmith was not present at that meeting, but did participate via conference call in an Aug. 16 executive session where the matter was discussed.

Neff wrote that the board found no evidence that Whilesmith or Quinn “availed themselves of an unwarranted privilege” by their participation in Troast’s resignation discussions.

The township has since hired William Close, who was the town administrator in Dover prior to accepting the Sparta position in March.

The Local Finance Board is authorized to initiate, receive, hear and review complaints, and hold hearings on possible ethics violations of local government. It determines whether a complaint is within its jurisdiction, frivolous, or has no reasonable factual basis, and then determines if the complaint requires a formal investigation.

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