October 05, 2005

Golden parachute was opened at the top

On Sept. 1, Acting Governor Richard Codey’s brother Robert retired from his assignment as a deputy attorney general on loan to Union County. The county website doesn’t have any photos of Codey being sent off with a gold watch but his golden parachute is worth revisiting.

According to published reports, Robert Codey, a state prosecutor since 1988, reached an employment agreement with the county in September 2004.

His state salary was set at $93,268. Although they could have had him for free, Union County supplemented Codey’s pay by $46,731 - putting his total salary at $140,000.

This boosted his pension to about $33,000 dollars more than what he would have been eligible for had he retired a year earlier.

This deal was worked out shortly after former Gov. James E. McGreevey announced his resignation setting the stage for Codey’s brother to take over as acting governor.

The unusual salary adjustment for Codey, who’s expertise was in organized crime, was requested by state Attorney General Peter Harvey and approved by then-acting Personnel Commissioner Marjorie Schwartz.

Codey received special permission to exceed the state salary limits in cases of “extraordinary justification and compelling need.“ The public, however, was never informed of what the "compelling need" was or what organized crime cases Codey was in charge of - and no indictments by Codey were reported in the news during his short tenure.

Title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code requires the personnel commissioner to establish and enforce pay rates and salary ranges for civil service jobs such as deputy attorney general. Codey’s official state salary was $140,000. The maximum for his position under state regulations was $115,618.

To keep it ‘legal’ the county had to reimburse the state for the pay increase. None of Codey’s fellow 779 deputy attorney’s generals was granted similar permission to exceed that limit. His salary was more than $20,000 above the salary of his direct supervisor and 136 other deputies ranking above him. Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow’s salary is $141,000.

Codey, 55, has more than 30 years in the public employment system, and under special pension rules for prosecutors, this entitles him for a pension that pays 70 percent of his highest annual salary. In addition to the $98,000 a year pension, Codey will receive automatic annual cost of living adjustments and state-paid health insurance throughout his retirement. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state the average life expectancy for white male Americans is 75.4 years.)

Appointed Union County Manager George Devanney, who is State Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, defended Codey’s pay increase. “We are lucky to get a man like Bob with his knowledge and experience. Just because he is the acting governor’s brother doesn’t mean politics were involved in his hiring," said Devanney.

According to the budget proposed by Acting Gov. Codey, the state will pay out $3.8 billion for employees’ benefits in the 12 months that began July 1 - that’s 14 percent of the entire $27.4 billion spending plan. Pensions would cost the state budget $337 million, and that price tag is expected to nearly quadruple in the following year’s budget. By July 2007, the state expects it will spend more on health benefits for retired workers than for active employees. By 2010, it may cost the state $6.7 billion to pay for health benefits and pensions.

In his March 1 budget speech, Codey said “Entitlements are the driving force behind the increase in state spending each and every year." Codey vowed not to sign any pension enhancements, and he planed to name a panel to examine the benefits system.

With his personal experience with entitlements and expertise in organized crime, Robert Codey would make an excellent panelist.