In Monmouth County, New Jersey taxpayers will be forking over $1.2 million to preserve a farm for former Manalapan Mayor Andrew Lucas. Using funds from the Farmland Preservation Incentive Grant Program, taxpayers will provide a windfall to Mr. Lucas, who presided over public meetings where competing properties were considered but bypassed for funding. This transaction puts on display how the levers of government can be pulled in a way that favors those closest to Republican party leaders.
In a shadowy business transaction that Mayor Lucas has never fully explained, Diamond Developers at Burke Farm, which lists Mr. Lucas as its Managing Member, entered this “farm” property in Manalapan into the process for farmland preservation approval. Mr. Lucas then participated in municipal town meetings in Manalapan where local funds were available for preservation. As he did so, Mr. Lucas neglected to mention his interest in this property and his pending application. Obviously, given his conflict, he should have recused himself.
In response, a local resident filed a detailed, lengthy ethics complaint citing the meetings in which a conflicted Mr. Lucas participated. Remarkably, the Ethics Board has now dismissed the complaint. In a one-page opinion, that on the one hand holds these facts as an example of what not to do, but on the other fails to take any action against Mr. Lucas, the Board has made plain its partisan bent and, in doing so, its irrelevance. Mr. Thomas Neff, a Monmouth County resident and Chairman of that Board, had previously contributed $750 to the Republican Senate Majority Fund headed by then Senate President John Bennett (who is now the Monmouth County Republican Party Chairman). They cite that they relied in the advice of the Manalapan Township Attorney, who was appointed by Mr. Lucas and is a political contributor to Monmouth County Republican campaigns. That in itself is a clear conflict of interest. Mr. Lucas participated in meetings where he disqualified properties for funds that he was also competing for. If this case creates no cause for ethical concern, then we should just dissolve the Ethics Board.
Every member of the Monmouth County Republican Party Freeholder Board, aka ‘Club Monmouth’, voted for this application. One ‘Club Monmouth’ Freeholder even aggressively defended Mr. Lucas’ role in all of this. These self-proclaimed budget hawks and fiscal conservatives fell silent as one of their own profited at taxpayer expense. Mr. Lucas claims he is a businessman – however his business is making over a million dollars off of hardworking taxpayers, NOT off private funds. He fails to understand the difference.
As we the taxpayers gift this farm to Mayor Lucas, we should at least know the details of the deal. How much profit for the Mayor on this deal? Sadly, he steadfastly refuses to answer questions related to his acquisition price. If you happen to run into the Mayor, make sure he thanks you for your generous gift.