Business should not stand for N.J.’s political corruptionTHE RECENT ARRESTS of public officials from across the state is yet another sobering reminder of the murky waters that business leaders may be forced to wade through when doing business in local government. Unfortunately, the headlines are all too familiar: public officials accused of taking bribes for abusing their positions and influencing development deals.
It is evident that public corruption spans across the state, has no political affiliation and is entrenched at every level of government Â and for business leaders, it is seemingly unavoidable.
This latest glimpse into New JerseyÂs culture of corruption should sound the alarm that now is the time for citizens to act. We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and wish away the ÂIÂll scratch your back if you scratch mineÂ way of doing business.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that on the county and local levels, government contracts and development approvals are discretionary Â and rife with opportunities to trade for political and personal gain. In the end, it is the taxpayers and businesses that carry the burden of these poor decisions.
The solution is two-fold. First, put in place the necessary state-mandated, local pay-to-play reforms to ensure contracts and development approvals are based on merit and cost-effectiveness. Second, bring in new leadership from outside the current political establishment.
The good news is most of the groundwork for change has already been laid. Legislation is pending in the Statehouse that would ban government contractors from making local political contributions; a second bill would do the same for local redevelopment projects. Both bills offer insulation for business leaders who donÂt want to participate in the pay-to-play game, but want to compete for government projects on a level playing field.
Both bills will require the political will of the governor and legislative leadership to put the interests of New Jersey citizens before those of the political party fundraising operatives. There is some hope Â we saw reform-minded Republican and Democratic legislators pass the state pay-to-play law in 2005, and they can do it again.
Just a few weeks ago this reform-minded majority came together to beat back the party bosses by passing the Party Democracy Act. This legislation guarantees that fundamental rights and basic principles of fairness are afforded to the grassroots leaders (committee members) who make up the Republican and Democratic political parties. Instead of the county chairmen wielding all the power, these neighborhood-level representatives of the political parties will now have the right to decide candidate endorsements and party platforms.
The Party Democracy Act will also help augment the CitizensÂ CampaignÂs ÂJersey Call to Service.Â This is designed to cultivate a new political landscape that invites average citizens to participate and become part of a new culture of service. Special FBI Agent Weysan Dun said it best in the wake of last weekÂs arrests: ÂIt is time for the citizens of New Jersey to ask, ÂWhat do we need to do to wipe the spider web of corruption off the face of this state?ÂÂ
ItÂs time for New Jersey residents to step up to the plate and commit to one act of service in their community. We cannot simply point the finger at the few bad apples in local government. The opportunities for constructive participation in local government are limitless. You can volunteer to serve on a local board or commission, get involved with your local and county political party, or simply attend a council meeting and make a cost-cutting proposal to your elected officials.
If last weekÂs indictments teach us anything, now is not the time to be taking a summer vacation from our civic duties.
Harry Pozycki is chairman of the Metuchen-based CitizensÂ Campaign.
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