June 19, 2005

County Govn't: It Keeps Growing, and Growing, and...

The Union County payroll is becoming top-heavy with administrators. In 2000, there were 24 employees earning over $100,000. In 2004 there were 64.

Employees earning $90,000 to $99,000 jumped from 42 to 107. Employees earning $78,000 to $89,000 jumped from 104 to 222.

I did a study of the 21 counties. It shows that Union County Freeholders and administrators are doing very well for themselves. The county payroll (not including benefits) increased $21 million from 2000 to 2004. If it were distributed equally, every employee would have received a six percent raise per year for three years. But, this did not happen. In reality, only eight percent of the employees accounted for the bulk of the $21 million increase.

The county has kept the total number of employees about even, the numbers show that only 20 more positions were added between 2000 and 2004 (2,840 in 2000 and 2,860 in 2004). This does not include about 300 seasonal employees.

A close look at the employee list reveals that as rank-and-file workers leave, the county creates a new administrative position. What has happened is that the county is top heavy with administrators with a shortage of service workers.

Each year the county does a shuffling of departments and divisions. With each shuffle, a new layer of administration appears. Titles appear that never existed, with salaries of $80,000 and up. The jump in payroll between 2004 and 2005 is approximately $3 million. This includes: a beefed up salary for Governor Codey's brother; a $65,000 golden parachute (plus benefits) for former Freeholder Lewis Mingo (a position which was created especially for him); and a new director's position at a cost of $82,500 for Shardra Badri who was once a clerk of the board for a short time.

Ms. Bahdri's prior employment was with state Sen. Ray Lesniak's (D-20) legislative office. She is getting paid to organize county volunteers, as is Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-22) who is paid $66,000. Ms. Stender is receiving $22,000 more than the person who previously held the same position.

County Manager George Devanney, who is Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew, has given himself a retroactive pay raise every year since being appointed, and his current salary is $144,257. He previously held two part-time county positions simultaneously before being appointed; they were deputy county manager and director of economic development.

The important thing to note here is that these two positions were created especially for Mr. Devanney. They did not exist prior to his employment with the county. He is the third highest paid county manager in the state.

We have a well-paid deputy county manager -- a position most counties do without. In fact, Elizabeth Genovich is tied for first place with Monmouth County's Deputy Manager's salary.

Of all of New Jersey's 21 counties, we have the third highest paid freeholders getting the best perks, including cars. The only county that outshines Union County in freeholder salaries and perks is Hudson. By the way, we have another thing in common with Hudson County: we now employ their county counsel. He worked under former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski, who is currently serving 41 months in federal prison for taking bribes.

A version of this post appeared a month ago in the Westfield Leader and the Cranford Chronicle.