Hopatcong mayor violated ethics rules, but fine waived, Finance Board decides

TRENTON – The mayor of Hopatcong did violate ethics rules when she sent a letter urging townspeople to support a referendum in 2011.

The Local Finance Board made the ruling regarding Mayor Sylvia Petillo Wednesday in an ethics complaint.

But it also waived the fine because it found she did not personally benefit in the matter.

The board took action regarding the letter Petillo sent regarding a voter referendum to consolidate the zoning and planning boards.

Two complainants had alleged an ethics law violation over the use of public funds for the letter, and the questions before the finance board involved whether a public official used public funds for personal gain.

The referendum, which passed, involved saving money and improving efficiency during a time of fewer applications, canceled agendas and reduced board activity, the finance board was told during a hearing last December.

No one accused the mayor of trying to benefit from this, Deputy Attorney General George Cohen told the board at the time, and he said then that the board had the option, should it determine a violation had occurred, of waiving  a $100 fine.

Finance Board Chairman Thomas Neff said today that in a sense this is a “relatively harmless matter.”

“The mayor was not enriching herself,” Neff said.  “But it was a violation of resources no matter how valid the question on the ballot may be.”

The board was told in December that the mayor sought legal advice as to whether it was OK to mail a letter explaining to residents the details of the proposed merger. Hopatcong mayor violated ethics rules, but fine waived, Finance Board decides