Mayor Liz Lempert has decided to recuse herself from discussions with Princeton University regarding payments in lieu of taxes. She made the decision despite the opinion of the town’s conflict of interest attorney Ed Schmierer that her participation does not pose a conflict even though her husband is a professor at the University.
“There has been too much focus on me and my participation, when all the focus should be on the content of the discussions with the University,” Ms. Lempert said in a written statement released yesterday to Town Topics. She planned to read the statement at the conclusion of Princeton Council’s meeting last night.
“In the best interests of the community, I am going to step aside and leave the discussions over the University’s contribution or PILOT [payment in lieu of taxes] in the hands of the Council,” she continued. “I have full faith in Council President Bernie Miller to lead a successful team.”
It was last August that Mr. Schmierer, who also serves as Princeton’s municipal attorney, expressed his view that Ms. Lempert’s participation in the negotiations was not improper. Her husband, Ken Norman, is a tenured professor of psychology. “Not only is the probability of any conflict remote or insignificant, any conflict is non-existent,” Mr. Schmierer wrote in an opinion. “The fact that her husband is a tenured professor, who does not stand to benefit in any manner from the voluntary agreement to be negotiated with Princeton University, cannot reasonably be deemed to have any influence on the mayor’s judgement.”
Mr. Schmierer based some of his opinion on the fact that there have been past mayors with connections to the University who negotiated with the institution, such as the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund, and Marvin Reed. He did recommend that Council member Heather Howard, a full-time employee of the University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, recuse herself from the discussions.
The issue of whether Ms. Lempert should or should not participate in the negotiations with the University has generated much discussion during the public comment portions of recent Council -meetings. While some have spoken in favor of her taking part, many have said it would be a conflict of interest.
“I want to make clear — I am not stepping aside because I believe I am conflicted,” Ms. Lempert’s statement concluded. “Rather, I am concerned my participation has become a distraction at a time when Council needs to be functioning effectively on this matter. The debate should not focus on me, but rather on the content of the negotiations and the strategy surrounding obtaining the best outcome for the town and taxpayers. I will make myself available to Council if they seek my advice, but I am stepping aside from the negotiating table.”