Local Dem files ethics complaints against Levinson and Bertino in Atlantic County

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With November’s general election fast-approaching, a local Democrat from Pleasantville is calling on the state’s Local Finance Board to investigate two of Atlantic County’s top Republican officials — and drawing the ire of the county’s GOP — for alleged failures to disclosure sources of income on their financial disclosure statements, according to an ethics complaint he filed earlier this week.

Pleasantville Democratic Party Club President Nolan Allen, in separate letters to the Department of Community Affairs, requested that the state review the finance disclosures of both Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson and Freeholder James Bertino to find out whether either official violated local public finance law by omitting income sources on recent statements. Allen claims that Levinson, a retired member of the Northfield Board of Education, repeatedly failed to disclose the pension he received from that position over the course of a 14 year period, while Bertino, who was first elected to the board back in 2011, has filed disclosures late and recently failed to disclose the income of his wife, who works as a Data Control Clerk at the Atlantic County Board of Elections.

According to the Department of Community Affairs, local elected officials, in accordance with Local Government Ethics Law, are required to file annual financial disclosure statements with the state, and “ignorance of the requirements to file” those statements is “not considered good cause.”

Both Levinson and Bertino are running for reelection this year against a slate of local Democrats that includes Atlantic County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Schroeder, local teacher Brenda Brathwaite, and John DiMaria and Tom Willett. Schroeder was tapped earlier this year to run against Levinson for the county executive position, while Brathwaite, Dimaria, and Willett are all running for spots on the freeholder board.

The races coincide with a heated contest at the Assembly level, where Democratic incumbent Vince Mazzeo (D-2) and his runningmate, Freeholder Colin Bell, are facing off against Republican incumbent Chris Brown (R-2) and his runningmate, Freeholder Will Pauls, in what is expected to be one of the more competitive legislative battles in the state this year.

Exacerbating tensions at every level, of course, is the issue of expanded gaming beyond a beleaguered Atlantic City, a proposition which could be put to voters via referendum as early as this year — particularly if lawmakers in North Jersey, who have clamored over the possibility in recent weeks, get their way.

Naturally, then, Allen’s call for a review of the pair’s disclosure histories was backed up by the county’s Democratic Party, which said in a statement that “vitality and stability of representative democracy depend upon the public’s confidence in the integrity of its elected and appointed representatives.”

““We believe that all elected officials must be in compliance with the Local Government Ethics Law. The law states that public office and employment are a public trust,” Schroeder, on behalf of his party, wrote. “The public is entitled to full disclosure from public officials to determine whether there is a conflict between the private interests and the public duties of all elected officials.”

Schroeder noted that normally, such complaints would be reviewed by the Atlantic County Board of Ethics. But he said that board was abolished earlier this year by county officials, partly because it was “administered by the spouse of the Campaign Treasurer for County Executive Levinson and the Atlantic County Republican party.”

Allen said the ethics board likely would not have been able to investigate the matter “even if it had not been eliminated” because of that reason.

“We are confident that state officials will fairly and impartially review these complaints and make a determination as to whether the law was violated,” Schroeder added.

Neither Levinson nor Bertino could be reached for comment. But in his own statement on the matter, Atlantic County GOP Chairman Keith Davis dismissed the complaints as “petty politics at its worst,” while at the same time raised the specter of North Jersey gaming, slamming Atlantic County Democrats for not doing enough to stamp out debate among lawmakers in the state’s northern regions on the issue.

“This is petty politics at its worst,” said Davis. “While Atlantic County’s Democrats are caving in on allowing North Jersey casinos, to distract the public, they file frivolous ethics complaints against public servants who have made Atlantic County the finest run in the state.”

While most South Jersey lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, have voiced their opposition to casinos outside Atlantic City in recent weeks, Democratic leaders in the legislature like Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-32) have signaled their support — though sources say Sweeney has expressed particular concern over how such a move might effect battleground legislative race, such as LD1, LD2, and LD38.

Then again, the state’s top Republican, Gov. Chris Christie, has also said he is open to the idea.

“Instead of wasting tax dollars on this nonsense, they should be working overtime to stop their Democrat friends from destroying Atlantic City jobs,” Davis added. “The Democrats are starting their campaign with negative, personal attacks on candidates’ spouses and I expect these low-ball tactics will only get worse.”

Democrats in Atlantic County also filed an ethics complaint against a Republican freeholder in 2012.

Local Dem files ethics complaints against Levinson and Bertino in Atlantic County