Rumana ethics complaint marches on

A state ethics board Tuesday agreed that it had jurisdiction to hear a complaint against Assemblyman Scott Rumana over an alleged conflict of interest stemming from his plan for an energy cogeneration plant in his hometown of Wayne.

Wayne resident Bill Brennan alleged in a complaint filed last April that Rumana violated state ethics rules when he appeared before the state Board of Public Utilities to advocate on behalf of a non-profit of which he is also chairman of the board. Brennan also alleged that Rumana violated Local Public Contracts Law when he set up Wayne Energy Corp., a non-profit designed to negotiate the parameters of the cogeneration plant.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical standards broke the complaint into eight elements, of which it agreed it had jurisdiction to hear six.

The six points the committee agreed to take jurisdiction over include allegations that the appearance before the BPU violated ethics rules, that Rumana did not provide documents to the committee in a timely manner, that he had a personal interest in advocating for the plant, that there was a “general appearance of impropriety” in Rumana’s advocacy of the project, that a solar energy rebate constituted a contract putting Rumana in violation of a provision restricting legislators from holding a contract of more than $25 with a state entity and that Rumana did not accurately complete financial disclosure forms required of members of the legislature.

In making their determination, the board drew a line in the sand, agreeing to hear portions of the complaint relating to his time as an assemblyman and dismissing anything that occurred while he was mayor of Wayne.

The board will now determine which of the six portions of Brennan’s complaint it will hear and which it will dismiss. That discussion will take place at its March meeting.

The board’s decision leaves the complaint against Rumana in limbo as the assemblyman continues to declare his innocence.

Tuesday, he said he was happy the board dismissed portions of the complaint.

“We are happy certainly that the majority of the complaint was dismissed and the few counts for lack of a better term that remain we will await the committee’s decision and we’re confident they will be able to separate the fact from the fiction,” Rumana said.

For his part Brennan said he also was happy that the board is taking the time to determine the validity of his complaint.

“I’m satisfied because they went further into depth than I thought they would,” Brennan said.  “They were exceedingly thorough as I had only three points that I had asked them to act on. Now they are taking jurisdiction over complaints that they inferred from my writings. “

Rumana has been working on the plan for the co-generation plant for a decade, since the early days of his tenure as mayor of Wayne.  The plan will save the township $20 million over the next 20 years, Rumana has said.  But the plan has faced several obstacles, including a lack of financing, and a denial by the BPU – which accused the assemblyman of a conflict of interest regarding his role as mayor and chairman of Wayne Energy Corp.

Rumana maintains there is no conflict stemming from his association with WEC because he has no financial interest and is paid no salary.  WEC was set up to shield Wayne taxpayers from any liability from the ambitious plan and a private equity will own and operate the plant if it is ever built.

What happens now for Rumana is up to the committee, but some members have signaled they would like the appearance of a conflilct clarified.  One element that had members intrigued Tuesday was a memo outlining costs accumulated by WEC to date. Rumana has said the company has no assets and has paid no bills.  But a memo from a member of the WEC board outlined $785,000 in costs accumulated by the company.  Rumana told the board that those costs have been assumed by the private contractor who won the bidding for the project.

Other costs were assumed by the township of Wayne, Rumana said.

Rumana ethics complaint marches on