Belmar Councilman Jim Bean is not backing down.
After Mayor Matt Doherty last month wrote the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) requesting an investigation into Bean's refusal to recuse himself from voting on a proposed ordinance, Bean filed a complaint of his own last week with the state ethics board accusing Doherty and Borough Attorney Michael DuPont of using their official positions to "tarnish" his reputation by claiming he had a conflict of interest.
Bean on Sept. 27 wrote the DCA's Local Finance Board, the state body that investigates ethics complaints concerning local officials, alleging Doherty and DuPont, by accusing Bean of having a conflict of interest by voting on the borough's recently adopted amendment to its back house ordinance, violated a state statue by using their positions in the Belmar government to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for themselves or others.
He also sent a second letter requesting the DCA determine whether he had a conflict of interest by voting on the amendment, which passed unanimously last month.
(The letters are attached to the PDF section of this article.)
Both Doherty and DuPont on Tuesday denied Bean's allegations and reiterated their previous positions that the councilman, who owns a back house in the borough, should have recused himself from voting even if he disagreed with the attorney's advice.
"No one's tarnishing anyone's reputation, but council members have to recuse themselves when they have a conflict of interest and when the attorney tells them [they do]," Doherty said.
DuPont, who also denied any attempt to "tarnish" Bean's reputation, said he was only trying to protect the councilman and the borough when he suggested that Bean recuse himself.
"What you're trying to avoid is any appearance of impropriety," DuPont said. "I was just trying to do my job."
Bean, however, disagrees.
"This is a smear on my name and my party," he said. "This was a set-up the whole time."
Bean, the council's lone Republican, states in his letter that the mayor, a Democrat, and the borough attorney used the issue to give his future political opponent an advantage when the councilman runs for re-election.
"They'll be able to throw this out at me six months down the road and say that I have ethics issues," Bean said.
Doherty, who last month requested an investigation into Bean's perceived conflict of interest, said he hasn't yet heard back from the DCA regarding his inquiry.
"It's really clear and cut that [Bean] had a conflict," he said.
Bean has said he was in contact with DCA officials leading up to his Sept. 19 vote and believes ultimately he'll be cleared of any impropriety.
The councilman maintains that he had no conflict and nothing to gain from the amendment, which lifted the age-restriction on occupancy of back houses and allows landlords to convert seasonal dwellings into year-round occupancy, since his back house had no age restriction and was already a year-round dwelling.
But Doherty on Tuesday said that the amendment changed the use of Bean's property, like all other affected properties in the borough's single-family zone, to a conforming use from a non-conforming use.
DuPont said that regardless of whether Bean had a serious conflict of interest, he advised the councilman to recuse himself and instructed the borough clerk to strike his vote from the record to protect the borough from possible legal challenges to the ordinance.
"I was trying to protect Councilman Bean from any appearance of perception of impropriety," DuPont said.
Doherty seemingly shrugged off the news that Bean had filed a complaint with the DCA.
"It's as ludicrous as it sounds," he said regarding the letters.