Hopatcong Mayor Violated Ethics Law, State Says
DCA said Sylvia Petillo broke a state local government ethics law when she used borough money to fund a mailing to residents advocating a referendum.
Hopatcong Mayor Sylvia Petillo broke a local government ethics law when she spent $2,316.11 of borough funds on a mailing to borough residents urging them to vote "yes" to a referendum last November, the state Department of Community Affairs said.
Petillo attempted to use her position as mayor "to secure an unwarranted privilege or advantage for herself or others," which violated N.J.S.A. 40A: 9.22.5(C), according to a state Local Finance Board notice of violation.
Click to the right for the notice of violation.
The notice wasn't a final determination, however, the state said. Petillo, whose $100 fine was waived because the violation didn't personally benefit her, the state said, has until July 25 to file for a hearing with the board to contest its ruling.
The second-term mayor said she plans to fight the decision.
"They did not explain what the violation was or how I profited by it," Petillo said when reached by phone Thursday. "They have not explained how it personally benefitted me and that's the issue. There was no personal benefit to me or anyone else."
Petillo also defending the mailing, saying she's sent out others that have helped Hopatcong residents over the years.
"When you're having a referendum, people need to understand why you're having a referendum and how it will benefit them," Petillo said later.
In a letter to borough residents before the Nov. 5 election, Petillo advocated a referendum that would combine Hopatcong's zoning and planning boards into a land-use board.
But, according to the state, Petillo went too far when she twice said in the letter that she recommends residents vote in favor of the referendum. The statements didn't "have an objective factual basis," the state said.
The referendum eventually passed, 1,493-479.
Randall Paulenich of Hopatcong filed a complaint over the mailing with the DCA earlier in 2012, which led to the investigation and ruling, the state said.
Combining the boards was "a benefit to the taxpayer and a benefit to the applicant," said Petillo, who added the move cut down on legal fees and time residents spent shuffling between the boards.
The move also cuts down on confusion between the zoning and planning boards, which often didn't communicate well, Petillo said.