CEDAR GROVE, NJ – An investigative report into the actions of Cedar Grove Councilman Harry Kumburis has concluded that Kumburis had no conflict of interest with regard to his involvement with the Highview Homes project, nor did he violate the Faulkner Act or the Local Government Ethics Law.
Kumburis’ actions were first questioned in September, when he implied that he was involved in “behind the scenes” activities to stop the Hilltop development which had been approved by the Council in June. His comments raised concern among the council members and he was cautioned by Township Attorney Joshua Zielinski against any individual involvement in matters to be determined by the governing body as a whole.
In February, Mayor Joseph Chiusolo reported at a Township Council meeting that he had been told that Kumburis met at a diner with an attorney representing Highview Homes, which had recently submitted an application to the Cedar Grove Zoning Board to build 204 apartment units on Cliffside Drive. Chiusolo voiced his concerns that this meeting violated the rules governing the Township Council and its members and possibly prejudiced the council for future dealings with Highview Homes.
Chiusolo also speculated that Kumburis may have met with the Zoning Board on this development stating that Kumburis had plans for the proposed Highview Homes development in December. Finally, an anonymous letter was received by the Township Council in March questioning the propriety of Kumburis’ conduct in relation to both Hilltop and Highview Homes.
With regard to his comments about Hilltop in September, Kumburis said he misspoke and the investigator concluded that because the Hilltop project had already been approved by the council, it was unlikely to come again before the council and raise a conflict of interest concern.
According to the investigative report, Kumburis acknowledged that he met the Highview attorney at a diner, but was unaware that he represented Highview Homes at the time. No application had been filed by Highview Homes with the Cedar Grove Zoning Board at the time of the meeting. Kumburis also stated that he had previously met the attorney at a political function and that they had a general conversation about politics, but nothing related to any matters before the council was discussed. He further stated that any conversation he had regarding properties in Cedar Grove simply stated that he was against “any type of cluster housing” in the township which he has publicly stated during his campaign. Kumburis said he had not prejudiced himself nor the Township Council as any conversation happened before the application was submitted to the Zoning Board.
“There is no indication that Councilman Kumburis has appeared at or otherwise been involved in the hearings before the Cedar Grove Zoning Board on the Highview development application. There is no indication that Councilman Kumburis is involved with the development, the developer, or the proposed project, other than the unsubstantiated allegation that he had the proposed plans in December 2015. There is also no indication that Councilman Kumburis has had any further contact with the Highview’s attorney, and it seems likely that Councilman Kumburis has purposely avoided contact,” the report stated.
The investigative report concluded that Kumburis did not violate the Local Government Ethics Laws or the Faulkner Act as it relates to his involvement with the Highview project because neither Kumburis nor the Council have taken any official action on the matter. However the investigator did recommend that Kumburis recuse himself on any matter related to Highview homes in the future to maintain propriety, which Kumburis had already stated he would do when the matter first was brought to light.
“I have always maintained that these were false allegations made against me by Mayor Chiusolo and have always maintained my innocence. You can plainly see a pattern of his behavior paralleled in both reports,” Kumburis stated. “I am confident that the residents who were led believe in a false perception of me can now see the truth. I look forward to putting this behind me and to continue to serve the residents of Cedar Grove on important issues.”