September 24, 2007

County owned Runnell's Specialized Hospital is being run by a contractor

Four years ago Union County Runnell's Specialized Hospital's administrator accepted a county retirement package which included life-time health benefits. One month later he was hired back as a consultant under the firm Aruspex, LLC to provide the same duties he performed one month earlier as a county employee.

Joseph Sharp was making $108,019 as a county employee. Upon retirement on July 1, 2003 he began collecting a $47,419 pension. According to county resolutions dated August 1, 2003 to date the county has paid Aruspex, LLC $365,950 for Sharp’s services as administrator.

Department heads are responsible for presenting resolutions to the freeholders for adoption. Sharp has been presenting resolutions as a contractor since his retirement.

Since retiring on July 1, 2003 Sharpe has collected $189,676 in pension payments. This is the amount the Union County Watchdog Association has asked the State Pension Employee’s Retirement System to demand back from Sharp.

It was recently reported in the Star-Ledger:.... Rahway business administrator and redevelopment director Peter Pelissier retired from both jobs to a log cabin on a 23-acre spread in Montana. His retirement after almost three decades in public service did not last long. The same month he began collecting his public pension from New Jersey, the 61-year-old Pelissier also began receiving checks from the Rahway Redevelopment Agency as a high-paid consultant -- doing the same job he had left for retirement, in an unusual, long-distance relationship.

Now the state wants the pension money back, arguing Pelissier never left the job as redevelopment director in Rahway.

The job he once performed for a salary was the same job he was being paid to do as a consultant, the state contends.

"If you retire, you cannot ... go back into a position similar to what you were doing when you left government, or another position covered by the pension system," state Treasury spokesman Tom Vincz said. "We're seeking to recoup all benefits paid out."

Vincz said the state comes across about a dozen cases a year of retirees doing public work while collecting a pension, spanning all manner of public employment, from school administrators to police officers.

Paula Franzese, a Seton Hall University law professor and chairwoman of the State Ethics Commission, said Pelissier's arrangement was "wrong on every level" and demonstrated loopholes in the system that need to be plugged.

"It's a betrayal of the pension system. It's a betrayal of the public trust and confidence, and it's a clear-as-day reason why local government needs to be within the purview of the uniform ethics code," Franzese said. "It just adds to the taint and perception that it's all politics as usual."