Ethics complaint in Bergen stirs the political pot

An ethics complaint filed against Bergen County Republican Freeholder Rob Hermansen is now being attacked as a political snowball, meant only to smear Republicans in the heat of an election.

The charge is that Hermansen, an employee of Wells Fargo, voted in January to approve Wachovia Bank – owned by Wells Fargo – as a depository for county funds, creating a conflict of interest. The measure passed 7-0.

The complaint came from Martin Etler, former mayor of Fair Lawn, although he had some help. Etler told PolitickerNJ this week that a Bergen freeholder informed him of the situation, although he wouldn’t say who.

Today, Etler said he didn’t even actually compose, type, or mail the letter himself; it was the Bergen County Democratic Organization. “Yeah, they typed it up for me,” Etler said.

Christopher Lee, BCDO spokesman said in an e-mail, “Apparently Marty Etler thought there was an issue here. He asked for help in drafting a complaint, and help was provided to him. I can only assume that the Department of Community Affairs will determine the validity of Mr. Etler’s complaint.”

“They wanted it to be in the legalese,” Etler said.”They sent it off to the proper entity.”

Not exactly, said state Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan. The letter was sent to the state’s local ethics board, according to the Dems; but Ryan said a complaint against a freeholder in Bergen would actually be heard by the county’s ethics board.  Ryan would not confirm or deny that Etler’s complaint was received by the DCA.

“This is nothing more than a political witch hunt and character assassination,” Hermansen’s aide Deirdre Woodbyrne said, “and that is wrong.”

Neither Woodbyrne nor Hermansen would comment on the merits of the allegation itself. The county counsel’s office, which reportedly oversees the ethics board, could not be reached late Friday afternoon to confirm receipt of the complaint.

A freeholder source confirmed this week that the matter was discussed in closed session before Etler’s complaint was drafted.

“A closed session is a closed session, period,” Woodbyrne said.

Although the facts of the complaint are public record and not protected by a closed session discussion, the timing of the complaint is curious. No issue was raised publicly about the January vote until August, shortly after the board discussed it in closed session.

Etler denies that had anything to do with it. “I have a way of getting information down at the county,” he said. “In the history of politics, there are no secrets.”


Ethics complaint in Bergen stirs the political pot