Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian P. Stack

It has come to my attention that Union City Mayor and Senator Brian P. Stack, has introduced S2702, which I believe is a threat to transparency and fiscal responsibility in government. This legislation amends current state law requiring that the salaries of certain County officers and employees be passed by ordinance. The amendment would allow for non-pensionable salary to be excluded from the ordinance mandate. In other words, top officials in County governments can pad their pay with fringe benefits and give themselves second and even third jobs, with no public oversight or regulation.

To put this in perspective, a County Executive could decide that they would like to receive a housing allowance – or stipend. As the law currently is, the creation of this new benefit would have to go before the County Commissioners and be voted on and be put on the record for all to know. If this amendment leaves committee and is then passed, it will allow a County Executive to create this housing stipend without going before the County Commissioners and without it being voted for and put on the public record.

Discreet salary padding and mandate violations are an ongoing problem in New Jersey. S2702 seems to favor only top positions who control large sums of money.

On May 6, Acting State Comptroller Kevin D. Walsh testified before the Community and Urban Affairs Committee. According to Walsh, an investigation in Union County found that Director level positions commonly violated laws and padded their compensation with unregulated add-ons such as tuition reimbursements and salaries for jobs separate from that which they had been hired/elected to do. And yet, if this amendment were passed back then, Comptroller Walsh explained that, “this would immediately apply to the additional pay of just two Union County officials and no one else in the state of New Jersey.”

This legislation comes at a time when the State legislation has gutted ELEC through the creation of the independent expenditure committee and is in the process of limiting access to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). It is clear to me that the last thing we need is another layer of government to be increasingly shrouded in secrecy and pulling away from matters of public record. Instead, we need to remain dedicated to transparency and accountability.

As a lifelong resident of Jersey City and Hudson County, I believe that the public must be informed of this law and its potential implications on our democracy and our taxes – remember YOU pay for these benefits.

Senator Brian Stack may be convinced of his legislation’s merit, but I for one am not.