Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty this week asked the state Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to conduct an ethics investigation on Councilman Jim Bean after he ignored the advice of the borough's attorney to recuse himself from discussion on a proposed ordinance last week.
Doherty on Tuesday sent a letter (attached to this story) to DCA Commissioner Richard E. Constable III, requesting a formal investigation into Bean's actions at last week's Borough Council meeting, when he voted on a proposed amendment to the borough's back house ordinance despite several warnings from Borough Attorney Michael DuPont that the councilman, who owns a back house in town, potentially had a conflict of interest and should abstain.
The governing body adopted the ordinance with a 5-0 vote, but DuPont instructed the borough clerk to strike Bean's vote from the record.
Bean on Wednesday stood by his assertions at last week's meeting that he had nothing to gain from the ordinance and, therefore, had no conflict of interest.
"I couldn't be happier [Doherty's] letter was sent to the DCA," Bean said by telephone.
Bean said he believed the DCA, which he's been in contact with the last two weeks, would clear him of any wrongdoing.
The ordinance allows residents with back houses, or accessory dwellings, to convert them from seasonal occupancy — usually summer rentals — to year-round occupancy.
Bean has said that his back house is already occupied year-round and the ordinance doesn't affect him.
But DuPont on Wednesday, reiterating his stance from last week, said that he advised Bean to recuse himself to remove any possible "appearance of impropriety."
"I have no vendetta against Councilman Bean," DuPont said by telephone.
Bean, DuPont said, undermined the integrity of last week's vote.
DuPont added that he wouldn't "necessarily be surprised" if the DCA found Bean committed no violations, either.
"But it's also important to err on the side of caution," he said.
Doherty on Wednesday said that he asked the DCA to conduct an investigation because the borough had no type of ethics board.
"The DCA is the only place to go to ask for an inquiry and determine how to proceed," Doherty said.
Even if Bean didn't understand why he should recuse himself, Doherty said, the councilman should have adhered to DuPont's advice.
"I've never heard of a governing body member disregard what a borough attorney said regarding conflict of interest," Doherty said.