May 24, 2014 at 7:16 AM
SPARTA, NJ-The ethics charges filed against Mayor Molly Whilesmith and Councilwoman Christine Quinn have been dismissed by the Local Finance Board. Whilesmith provided The Alternative Press of Sparta with a copy of the letter she received from the state, signed by Chair, Thomas H Neff.
The charges were lodged by former Sparta council member Michael Spekhardt. Spekhardt asked the state to look into what he considered to be a breach of ethics. The complaint involved issues that eventually led to the separation of former Township Manager David Troast from the municipality. Speckhardt alleged Quinn and Whilesmith, "used their official position to file a police report on a matter that was deemed to be an administrative issue."
Events in question began at a ribbon cutting ceremony on August 15, at which Quinn alleged Troast to have made remarks about following her to the event and having a gun. After the event Quinn filed a complaint with the police stating she felt threatened by Troast's remarks.
Later that day Troast was escorted off municipal property when it was confirmed that he had a gun in the trunk of his car. Though the gun was secured, it was still considered violation of municipal code.
The next day there was a closed meeting that had been scheduled and noticed prior to this incident. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Troast's continued employment in Sparta. At the next township council meeting Troast resigned.
Spekhardt's complaint specifically indicated violation of NJSA 40A:9-22.5 (c) and (d) prohibiting; local government officials from using their "official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages and from acting in official capacity in any matter where he...has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment"
Whilesmith's letter states their investigation showed that she was neither the one to file a police report nor did she make a statement to the police. It further states she was not present at the public portion of the meeting during which the vote to accept Troast's resignation.
The letter states; "The Board found no evidence that you availed yourself of an unwarranted privilege in violation of NJSA 40A:9-22 (c) as attendance at a public meetings via telephone is acceptable. " Whilesmith had teleconferenced into the executive session portion of the meeting.
"Additionally, the Board did not find that you had a prohibiting personal or financial involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair your objectivity or independence of judgment with regard to your participation in the August 16, 2013 closed session meeting or you participation via conference call in the Executive Session of the August 27, 2013 meeting. "
In response to this letter Whilesmith said, "I respect the right of every citizen to hold their public officials accountable. It would be my expectation that a complaint be factual, not based on gossip. I have missed two meetings in four years - fortunately, I was not in attendance at the meeting pertaining to Mr. Speckheardt's allegations. I believe the complaint should have been withdrawn, rather than cost the taxpayer a single dollar to investigate."
Spekhardt and Quinn declined comment in time for publication. In an interview after the complaint was filed, Spekhardt had said he planned to follow through with the ethic complaints against both councilwomen because he would "simply like an outside agency to look at the matter to determine the appropriateness of their actions," regarding the separation of Troast from the township.
According to the letter from Neff, "This case is now closed."