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Op-Ed: Fozman Says Government Transparency Motivated Party Switch

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Brick Councilman Jim Fozman and U.S. Sen. candidate Bob Hugin. (File Photo)
Brick Councilman Jim Fozman and U.S. Sen. candidate Bob Hugin. (File Photo)

By Brick Township Councilman James Fozman:

Over the past week I have been reading the statements and replies to the news of my switch to the Republican Party, so I would like to preface this with a review of the meaning of “political transparency.” There appears to be some confusion as to what exactly defines the phrase, so let us take a closer look at the definition that is set forth on Wikipedia:

“In politics, transparency is used as a means of holding public officials accountable and fighting corruption. When a government’s meetings are open to the press and the public, its budgets may be reviewed by anyone, and its laws and decisions are open to discussion, it is seen as transparent, and there is less opportunity for the authorities to abuse the system for their own interests.”

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I think the aforementioned excerpt does a fantastic job of explaining why a clear view into the inner workings of politics is important, and it is also in line with how I have always defined the phrase in my own mind. Unfortunately, my interpretation of being open is very different from the one held by my former Democratic colleagues. In the time that I have served as councilman for the township of Brick, I have witnessed council committee meetings becoming fewer and farther between, which allows for incidences such as physical signs being erected on public property before the ordinances are even passed, as well as other bold, and unchecked behavior. I have been prevented from participating in certain caucus meetings due to questioning inappropriate tactics used by other council members. I was met with resistance for being oppositional in the instances that I found something to be wrong. In short, I was speaking out rather than merely going along with the pack, and I was punished for it.

Mayor John Ducey’s only example of being transparent is when he recently stated that other mayors have called him crazy for allowing a Facebook livestream where the residents of Brick can ask questions. Why would any morally good politician think it is crazy to allow tax-payers the right to ask questions about how their money is being spent? One of the many benefits of being a free citizen in the United States of America is the protections set forth by our founding fathers, which allows citizens to assemble peaceably and to question their leaders. Why is that practice, according to Ducey, now considered crazy by a group of purportedly, anonymous mayors? It should not matter where the public forum is held: online vs in person…the people have the right to know what is going on; this is just one piece of the “political transparency” pie, while the other pieces lie in the ring of what happens during closed caucus meetings. In those instances, the citizens of the township have to trust that the council is holding their best interests at heart. When council members are prohibiting certain elected officials from participating, especially those whose values and principles do not align with their own personal views, who then will serve as the watchdog of accountability? If questioning certain practices ruffles feathers, and bars attendance, how will the tax-payers be made aware of the shadiness that is afoot? At that point, who exactly represents the people of the township?

The entire purpose of a multiple party system and political spectrum (liberal-conservative) is to ensure checks and balances, otherwise politics will suffer from biases, which in turn, irreparably damages innocent citizens. I have always been a strong believer in transparency, which is why when I held the position of chair of Business and Finance, I consistently shared every minutia of those meetings with my council colleagues. However, I was not afforded the same clarity by Mayor Ducey, and other members of the town council, who have made it well aware that they work for him, and not for the people of Brick. I believe that the attempts made to silence me are not only due to my blatant opposition to the corrosion of good values, but also because of the rampant cronyism that I have witnessed occurring in the local Democratic Party. While I served the great citizens of Brick as an unbiased, fiscally conservative Democrat, I can no longer align myself with politicians who put their own interests, and their party label, ahead of the people.

The perfect example of the unequivocal nepotism that is occurring within the Democratic Party is the current re-election bid of Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who was recently indicted on federal corruption charges. Menendez advocated for the business interests of a close friend and was given lavish perks in return for favors; he was also charged with crimes such as fraud, bribery, and making false statements. The Senator has lied repeatedly not only to the tax-paying citizens of New Jersey, but to all of the the people of the United States of America. Yet somehow, despite all of Menendez’ publicly exposed wrongdoings, the Justice Department dropped the corruption charges, and the Democratic Party immediately started funding his campaign so that he may hold onto his seat for another term. The entire story is akin to a nailbiting, blockbuster movie about a corrupt administration, but then suddenly, a hero emerged to contest the insanity! And that hero is Bob Hugin. When I learned that Hugin was running against Menendez, and in reflection of what I had experienced with the Democratic Party in Brick, in all good conscience, I chose to endorse Hugin, despite his party affiliation.

In closing, there are some hard questions that need to be asked of the people of Brick: What happens to other council members who decide to speak out against this reprehensible behavior that has occurred on behalf of the Democratic Party? Will all elected officials who are resistant to wrongdoing also be banned from participating in future caucus meetings? My practice of refusing to vote due to party affiliation, but rather for the good of the people, is what got me here in the first place. Are the labels that are used to define different values within the political system more important than whether or not the politician is free from cronyism, and general bad practices that are self-serving? While I am not surprised that some people are upset that I have switched parties, I am shocked that it appears to be more important for some of them to spew vitriol over party lines, rather than come together for the greater good, and to embrace political transparency.