August 28, 2007

Recommended Labor Day weekend reading

New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report in July titled: How Much is Enough? Drawing the Lines on Multiple Public Job Holding in New Jersey. And this being New Jersey, the media didn’t pay any attention to this important work, no wonder that media disenfranchisement is mentioned in the report as a key problem.

I began my watchdog activities with a huge respect for the media. I now find myself bitterly disappointed and can still be shocked by what the Star-Ledger chooses to ignore. Unless it is sensational, the Star-Ledger backs off from exposing power brokers and their machines. When the self proclaimed “Voice of New Jersey” is afraid of the powerbrokers, it makes it that much harder for the local weekly papers to stand up to them. Lesniak, Cryan and the Chairwoman of the Union County Democratic Committee Charlotte DeFalippo, pull the strings of all 9 freeholders in Union County. Freeholders are hired and fired by the powerbrokers and exhibit no individuality. They are elected, but they have no power, they are simply replaced when they don’t please the bosses.

Along with dual office holding, we have found that nepotism is rampant in Union County government. A study which compared elected democrat officials with county employees found that 542 employees, out of nearly 3,000, had the same surnames of elected Democrat officials. We included the elected Democrat municipal committee people in our study; we believe that these positions are central to the party bosses to hold on to their power.

Of course we can not prove that all 542 employees are actually related to the elected officials, but consider that we have no way of knowing how many employees/relatives with different surnames as elected officials, such as in-laws and cousins, are on the payroll!

For instance, our appointed county manager, George Devanney, is the nephew of State Senator Raymond Lesniak. Devanney’s mother in-law is a county employee, her surname is Bowen. Another example is Freeholder Angel Estrada's son-in-law who is the U.C. tax administrator, Christopher Duryee. He started in 2003 with a salary of $65,000.--- 2007 his salary is $98,399. I don’t know of anyone, outside of public employment, who gets $10,000 annual salary increases.

We also have no way of knowing what relatives are working directly for, or are involved with, contractors and vendors. Following an anonymous tip we received, we investigated and found that Freeholder Debra Scanlon’s sister, who goes by her married name, was given a 2-million dollar no bid contract in 2005 which was awarded in a business deal that was not conducted in public view. Scanlon simply left the freeholder dais when the contract was voted on, therefore she did not have to explain herself. There is nothing illegal about this.

Unethical? Forgetaboutit. It isn't an issue in this state.

The report also analyzes the legal background of an Undersheriff serving in elective office. We have Assemblyman Joe Cryan as an Undersheriff which is considered a full-time position here in Union County. It pays $109,582 and comes with a take home car. Assembly people are required to spend 2 days a week in Trenton, yet along with this Cryan is also the Union Municipal Democrat Chair and the State Chairman of the Democrat party. The hours necessary to complete all these commitments aren't humanly possible. Yet here in New Jersey it isn’t illegal.

You can see our research into what Union County municipal officials are compensated and what other public jobs they hold HERE.

You can read the NJ Policy Perspective Report HERE. Since you labor so hard all year to pay your property taxes, it would be appropriate to print it out and read it this Labor Day weekend.

How Much is Enough? Drawing the Lines on Multiple Public Job Holding in New Jersey examines the more than 700 elected state, county, and municipal officials who hold another, non-elected position in the public sector. The report is one of several NJPP research projects funded by a grant from The Schumann Fund for New Jersey. The series of reports will examine key aspects of the state's political and governmental systems.

Among the report's findings:600 men and women elected to municipal office have at least one other job on a public payroll besides their elected positions-more than 30 percent are employed in public education either as teachers or administrators; 20 percent work in county government; 14 percent for public authorities.

In the state's 10 most populous municipalities, just over half of council members have their day jobs in the public sector.

At least 56, or more than 40 percent, of the state's 137 county freeholders hold at least one other public sector job. Some 23 freeholders hold another elected office.

A dozen men and women in the 40-member State Senate in 2006 held at least one non-elected public job, and 26 of the 80-member State Assembly earn at least part of their living from public sector employment.

When the same people hold multiple elected and non-elected jobs the system suffers from less accountability, fewer checks and balances and less competition. Those who hold these dual offices may skimp on their duties in one of the positions. Their independence may be constrained by the need to keep the favor of the political leaders whose approval is needed to keep not just their elected position but also the job that provides their principal source of income.

The supervisor of an elected official may well be deferential when it comes to attendance and performance.

The checks and balances built into the system by the doctrine of separation of powers can be violated when, for instance, a law enforcement officer serves as a legislator.

An elected official who enjoys the perquisites of a low-show job in a public agency is shielded from competition that could open up the system to competitors.

When a Jersey City school superintendent spends part of the week in Trenton as an Assemblyman it is clear that he is spending less time as superintendent than his $210,520 salary should require.

Clearly New Jersey needs some general rules to be used in guiding the way through the wide range of incompatibilities and conflicts created by combining elected and non-elected positions.

New Jersey has chosen for years to deal with this problem by ignoring it. Such a policy is no longer tolerable. The first step forward is for the public and political leaders to recognize the threat the current system poses to government accountability, performance and perception. The study includes a detailed analysis of the problems created by legislators who are employed as undersheriffs, as 3 have been in recent years.

Now is the time for New Jersey to make combined elected and non-elected job holding the exception rather than the rule. Some states, such as Louisiana, explicitly forbid holding many dual offices that place officials in an unresolveable conflict of obligations. New Jersey should follow that course.