The New Jersey state office of the state comptroller (OSC) recently completed a year-long investigation into the practice of part time employees illegally accruing time toward state pensions. The OSC reviewed 58 municipalities and school districts and found an overwhelming majority of these governments failed to comply with the 2007 state law that required all public entities to determine whether their professional service providers were bona fide employees.
Comptroller Matthew Boxer recommended that the treasury department disqualify 202 professionals from the state pension system on the basis that these individual failed to meet the standard for being bona fide employees. Many of these local governments failed to give appropriate weight to an individual’s separate employment in a private or professional firm. The Internal Revenue Service makes it clear that it is unlikely that a professional service provider is a bona fide government employee if that individual is engaged in business and offers services to the public.
It has been brought to my attention that our council members, who are part time employees, receive benefits packages reserved for full time employees. Four of our six council members currently receive these benefits. The total cost for the last three years has been $326,814. It is also interesting to note here that the council members are the only part time employees who receive this benefit. I ask wouldn't that money be better spent by hiring two full time teachers, or rolling back into the D.P.W. budget?
Let us consider the situation surrounding two council members that recently received such a benefit. Gary Jeffas is an attorney with a successful practice in town. According to the IRS guidelines, it would be difficult to categorize him as a government employee. Yet Mr. Jeffas received benefits that cost the taxpayers $35,253.60 each year until the recent state switch. Councilman Jim Clancy is a retired teacher who receives a pension and a rich benefits package for his 30-plus years of service, which he rightfully has earned. However, Jim has opted to take a payout for the benefit package that he does not need which amounts to $1,000 a year for two years.
Although not illegal, one can conclude that this practice can be considered double dipping and raises questions about ethics.
While I support independent Mayor Mike Gonnelli and believe he is doing a good job, these practices do not represent the honest open government that the “Take Back Secaucus” ticket ran on. In fact, these practices are more aligned with the typical Hudson County political maneuvers for which we are notoriously associated. I have contacted the OSC concerning this matter and I am considering filing a complaint with the Division of Pensions and Benefits.
I ask that Mayor Gonelli and the council put an end to this practice. It is clearly unfair to the taxpayers of Secaucus.