Assemblymen Daniel Benson and Wayne DeAngelo (both D-Mercer/Middlesex) introduced legislation on Monday to help protect taxpayer dollars when public officials are charged with crimes touching upon their public office.
“While we would hope most elected officials in this situation would do the right thing and resign, for those that don’t we must protect the taxpayers through measures like this,” said Benson. “Particularly, when an official is accused of using their public position in an illegal manner to reap personal benefits, the public should be reassured that until the allegations are resolved, their taxpayer dollars will be protected.”
“Protecting the residents is our top priority to restore their faith the public coffers would be closed when an indictment is handed down,” said DeAngelo. “When an indicted official remains in office, the public needs to know that their taxpayer dollars are not being used to either cover up their illegal activities or pay for their legal problems, particularly those charges connected to the position to which they were elected.”
The bill (A-3180) would suspend salary, pension credits and benefits for any local elected official who is indicted for a crime or offense involving moral turpitude until the official is either convicted or exonerated of the charges.
In doing so, the bill would require a local elected official, upon signing an oath of office, to annex a signed certification stating that if they are ever indicted for a crime or offense that would result, upon conviction, in forfeiture of office, position, or employment, their salary and pension credits shall be suspended from the date of the indictment to the date of conviction.
If exonerated, the official would be entitled to a recovery of salary and pension credit dating back to the suspension of pay.
“This is not an attempt to rush to judgment, but to protect taxpayers until such matters can be resolved in a court of law. Should an official be exonerated, they will be rightly entitled to the compensation they earned,” added Benson. “When an elected official takes an oath of office, it is really a contract with the residents of that community. A deviation from that oath, especially one that results in an indictment on criminal charges, is a serious breach of that contract. Local taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of compensating the official who broke their trust. This bill would help hold elected officials accountable from the first time they raise their right hand to take their oath of office.”
“Since an elected official should realistically step down from office if indicted so that the charges do not overshadow a community, salary and benefits should be suspended until the indicted official is cleared by a court of law. If the official is found not guilty or the charges are dropped, then salary, pension and benefits would be restored as a sign that trust in the official has begun to be restored,” said DeAngelo.