A state ethics panel is preparing charges against Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne, to consider whether his role advocating for a renewable energy project in his hometown before state agencies created an appearance of impropriety.
The charges stem from a complaint filed last year by Bill Brennan, a Democrat who is challenging Rumana for his seat representing the 40th Legislative District, which includes parts of Bergen, Essex and Passaic counties.
Rumana serves as the unpaid chairman of the non-profit Wayne Energy Corp., which was set up to oversee a stalled renewable energy project that would have combined a cogeneration plant, solar panels and a geothermal system to power, heat and cool a cluster of municipal and school buildings in Wayne.
The committee voted 5-0 Tuesday with one member abstaining to have its counsel prepare charges to weigh whether four specific actions created an appearance of impropriety for a member of the Legislature in violation of state statute:
- A telephone call Rumana made to the Department of Education that he said was to inquire about the process for putting solar panels on schools.
- Rumana’s intent to meet with the state Board of Public Utilities to advocate for the project. Rumana ultimately didn’t attend the planned meeting after the board questioned his appearance.
- Applications in 2008 and 2009 by the Wayne Energy Corporation for an extension of a renewable energy rebate toward the cost of the solar panels.
The committee will have to review and approve the charges before Rumana faces a hearing.
“Rumana has been saying there is nothing to these charges since March of 2010 as if they are going away,’’ Brennan said after the hearing. “Here we are June 2011 with no end in sight.’’
Brennan said he would be able to testify at a hearing and added that he was convinced he would prove Rumana’s guilt.
“Once I do that, unless he is going to bring in an army of perjurers, he is done,’’ said Brennan, who alleged that Rumana had “thrown the weight of his office around with state agencies.’’
“It is ridiculous,’’ Rumana’s attorney, Paul Josephson, responded. “Scott didn’t throw his weight around. His contacts were absolutely consistent with the sort of conversations that go on on a daily basis between legislators or their staff and the executive branch about where an application stands.’’
“That is all it was,’’ Josephson added. “There is nothing out there to suggest he did anything improper.’’
Rumana, who had championed the co-generation project since his 2001 campaign for mayor of Wayne, said moving forward with charges alleging an appearance of impropriety could have wide-ranging implications for any lawmaker who serves on the board of a non-profit.
“Every single legislator that votes on the budget that serves on a non-profit agency that gains money from the state in the budget, you could be brought up on charges under the appearance of impropriety standard,’’ Rumana said. “That is the clear and potential impact if the committee were to ultimately pursue the issue of bringing charges.’’
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