The commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation has been accused of violating ethics laws last year when he failed to recuse himself from a meeting with a company he lobbied for just a month prior.
According to NorthJersey.com, two former State Ethics Commission chiefs said Jamie Fox committed ethics violations by sitting in on the closed-door meeting in October 20154 with United Airlines, his former client.
In the meetings, United Airlines’ decision to withdraw from the Atlantic City airport after just eight months was discussed, and the South Jersey Transportation Authority voted that United wouldn’t have to repay $104,000 in incentives.
“This is absolutely a violation of the conflicts law,” former State Ethics Commission executive director Kathy Wiechnik said.
Under New Jersey law, no state employee is allowed to be involved in any issues that involve a former business associate for at least a year.
However, Fox’s office issued a statement Tuesday declaring that the commissioner never committed any violations.
“Commissioner Fox did not take part in any conversation about United, there has never been a vote on any United matter since he has been commissioner, and there was no ethical violation,” NJDOT spokesman Stephen Schapiro said.
Fox maintains that the United meeting was his first as commissioner and he didn’t know the United issue would be brought up. He said that he did not participate in the short discussion. Schapiro said that SJTA Vice Chairman Jeffrey April brought up the United issue, but it wasn’t on the agenda and no vote on the issue was taken.
“It also should be noted that Commissioner Fox has not voted upon any matters affecting United Airlines since he became Commissioner, including their agreements at Atlantic City International Airport,” Schapiro wrote.
However, Wiechnik said there are still ethical issues at play even if Fox wasn’t taking part in the conversation. She said he should have issued a recusal letter regarding his connection to United when he took the job.
“If you are recused, you have to get up and leave the meeting,” she said. “Your presence there has the potential to have an effect.”
Another former State Ethics Commission chairwoman, Paula Franzese, echoed Wiechnik and said that “it’s hard to imagine” that ethics officials wouldn’t find a violation based on the facts of the case.
Fox was appointed as NJDOT commissioner in September 2014, at which time he sold his stake in his lobbying firm. Fox told the reporters when he was appointed that he would let the deputy director handle anything involving one of his former lobbying clients.