In Brief

State comptroller scolds Monmouth County commissioners for secret salary hikes

By: - January 13, 2022 10:05 am

The five-member, all-Republican commissioner board gave themselves $3,000 annual raises in 2020. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

The Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners flouted state law when it disregarded the required public process to boost commissioners’ and the county sheriff’s salaries, according to a new report from the Office of the State Comptroller.

Circumventing the state-mandated process erodes public confidence in local government, the Comptroller’s Office said in a statement.

“Transparency as to the salaries of public officials is a critical safeguard against misuse of taxpayer funds,” Comptroller Kevin D. Walsh wrote in a letter sent this week to Thomas A. Arnone, the board’s director.

The Monmouth County Commissioners’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The five-member, all-Republican commissioner board gave themselves $3,000 annual raises in 2020 and bumped up Sheriff Shaun Golden’s salary more than $42,000 since 2016 — but in doing so, disregarded a statute mandating a five-step public process, the report says. Golden is chairman of the Monmouth County Republican Committee.

To raise county commissioner salaries, state law requires the board to introduce a resolution with the salary change and alert the public to a public hearing. They then must hold the public hearing, vote on the resolution before the public, and give the public an opportunity to challenge the pay raise.

The board didn’t take any of those steps when it decided to boost commissioners’ salaries from $27,000 to $30,000. State law requires a similar public process to boost sheriff’s salaries, but the board did not follow that process when it hiked Golden’s pay annually from $136,133 in 2016 to $178,343 this year.

Walsh began investigating after his office received multiple complaints about the secret salary hikes. The Asbury Park Press reported on the raises last year.

In his letter to the board, Walsh directed members to follow the public process state law requires.

In response to his report, the board passed resolutions on Jan. 6 setting salaries for the county sheriff, surrogate, clerk, and prosecutor. The board proposed a resolution for the commissioners’ raises and will hold a public hearing on it on Jan. 27.

Arnone addressed the Comptroller’s findings at the board’s Jan. 6 meeting, saying county commissioners have “never” passed such resolutions “even though the statutes have been on the books for decades. We have also learned that numerous other counties, I think it is seven, have not passed resolutions on an annual basis, pursuant to the statute.”

Arnone did not name the counties.

“Going forward,” he added, “we will be passing these resolutions every year based on those four statutes in an effort to share this information and continue to fix Monmouth County’s position as a leader of transparency.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

MORE FROM AUTHOR