Friday, December 19, 2014

Administrative law judge overruled with technical ethics violation ruling against Ravi Bhalla

State Finance Board overrules law judge's decision tossing ethics complaint against Councilman Bhalla who promises another appeal of the years long saga

The saga of what constitutes an ethical violation in Hoboken is again back in the news with an almost five year old saga of a continuing contract involving Councilman Ravi Bhalla and a former office mate, Paul Condon who ran independent law practices.

The ruling by the NJ Local Finance Board overruling an administrative law judge tossing the allegation out is part of a four year plus ethics complaint questioning Bhalla's vote on a unanimous approved continuation of a contract in the Andriani case by attorney Paul Condon.

In early 2010, Councilman Ravi Bhalla conferred with Corporation Counsel Michael Kates before a City Council meeting on the question of whether he should vote on a continuing contract for Paul Condon. The two had a shared office space and much of the back and forth follows about the terms of space shared with their respective independent law practices and a lease for the office.

Perry Belfiore seen at a 2010 City Council meeting sees his years long
ethics complaint advance as a judge's ruling tossing the matter
as "frivolous and unwarranted" is overruled by the NJ Local Finance Board.
Councilman Bhalla says he will again appeal the latest ruling.

Hoboken politico Perry Belfiore filed the ethics complaint and has pursued the case even as he was recently criticized by the NJ Administrative judge who was very dismissive of the entire matter and motivations behind its filing.

The decision reverses the earlier legal opinion by Administrative Law Judge James Geraghty who called the ethical violation allegations "frivolous" and "unwarranted" and declared the matter "wildly speculative."

Councilman Ravi Bhalla promised he's already started another appeal of the latest ruling which falls under the authority of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Via email, Bhalla wrote questioning the board's "perplexing decision" rejecting the judge's decision of a "politically motivated ethics complaint."

"Just three months ago, these same charges were dismissed by a judge, found to be "frivolous and unwarranted," Bhalla wrote in his statement quoting the judge they came from "someone who has a history of making 'malicious, bigoted' personal attacks against me."

Bhalla also questioned the process in how the DCA board made the ruling. A 45 day timeline to appeal saw two meetings of the Local Finance Board held and he said both did not take up the issue in any public process. He condemned the ruling being made behind closed doors by unknown state officials.

Belfiore offered his statement pleased with the latest finding by the NJ board writing, "that the appearance of a conflict of interest constitutes a conflict of interest is a quote in the finding that I stated to Ravi at the meeting," back in 2010. He concluded, "the appearance is a standard every elected official should live by."

Some sources suggest the NJ board approval is an extension of partisan politics due to the lack of any public record how they overturned Judge Geraghty's decision and would be a basis for Bhalla's appeal. Another source noted the problems with the issue appeared last September in the midst of election season in Hoboken.

Hoboken's election ran at the same time as the governor's race. Sources say Councilman Bhalla was like some other Hudson County elected officials asked to endorse Gov. Chris Christie's re-election. Bhalla who maintained good relations with the governor politely declined and did not endorse anyone for any statewide office choosing to focus on his own race in Hoboken which is nonpartisan.

The latest decision in the ethics complaint waives the $100 technical violation cost. That fee is apparently not the cost Bhalla is focused on as he noted his "reputation in the (Hoboken) community is paramount" and he'd work toward "again clearing my name so I can continue to advance Hoboken" versus being dragged into a "political fight which wastes taxpayer money."

Related: The NJ Administrative Law judge made his ruling last fall and was reported here in early October. 


Talking Ed Note: MSV attended this 2010 City Council meeting and personally observed Councilman Ravi Bhalla have a brief meeting with then Corporation Counsel Michael Kates on the issue of whether he should recuse himself on a vote for a continuation of a contract with Paul Condon. After conferring, Bhalla went ahead and joined the City Council in a unanimous vote approving the contract extension. 

Hoboken has elected officials walking the streets who requested $5,000 checks be made out to their political committees and another accepting thousands of dollars by vendors they had direct connection in selecting. 

MSV has noted at least one ongoing federal investigation continues in the Hoboken Housing Authority.