Solicitor: No Conflict of Interest on Goodwill Center Vote
A Haddonfield zoning board member participated in the sale of property that Goodwill bought, and voted on a variance it received.
Haddonfield zoning board officials said this week there was no conflict of interest in allowing a member to vote on a use variance for a Goodwill donation center, even though he participated in the sale of the property.
Kevin Burns, a local real estate agent, is also a member of the borough zoning board. Burns represented the owners of the former Haddonfield Shellfish market at 170 Grove St. in their sale of the property to Goodwill.
Burns also voted in favor of a zoning variance on Feb. 21 to allow Goodwill to operate a donation center on a property that was zoned for retail use. The national nonprofit company will not operate a retail store at the location. It will only receive donations that will not be stored on site.
The zoning board unanimously voted 7-0 in favor of the variance after a nearly three-hour meeting and over the objections of several neighbors. Burns told board members and the public that he was the listing agent in the sale of the property, but the deal was complete and he did not think he needed to recuse himself.
"I had advice from the solicitor and zoning officer and I felt I voted fairly and impartially," Burns said this week.
Acting board Solicitor Francis X. Ryan agreed and told the board he did not think there was a conflict of interest.
"So many things can appear to so many people to be wrong," Ryan said. "But that's not the standard. There was no actual conflict. The deal was done, it was completed. He had no pecuniary interest in this application, whatsoever."
David Hunt, a zoning board member who was elected chairman of the board in a brief reorganization meeting after the hearing, said Goodwill proved its case, regardless of Burns' participation.
"I initially didn’t think it was as cut and dried as the others thought, but the solicitor's advice that there was no conflict," he said. "The question was answered to my satisfaction."
In the end, Burns' vote would not have made a difference in getting a super majority of at least five members to vote "yes." But some local officials questioned how wise it was for Burns to participate.
"If it were me, I would have recused myself," said Jeff Kasko, one of three borough commissioners, Haddonfield's highest elected officials, who appoint members of local boards and commissions. "But that's really up to the member and the solicitor. If they decided that wasn't necessary, then that's their decision."
Commissioner Tish Colombi, the mayor, had a different take.
"In a small town like Haddonfield, where we are required to have boards made up by residents, there are times when there might be conflicts," she said. "The fact that he made that public statement, I think that's all we can do."