Planet Princeton

Assemblywoman Criticizes `Golden Parachute’ Arrangement for Chief, Administrator: Calls for End to Payouts,Terminal Leave

Simon

Princeton Township’s arrangement to pay the long-time municipal administrator and police chief for nine months after they leave their posts is one more example of why the state needs reform to end cash payouts for public employees’ unused sick time, says Assemblywoman Donna Simon of the 16th District.

“Princeton voted for property tax relief by reducing costs and wasteful spending through consolidation, and these types of golden parachute arrangements are unnecessary expenses that drive up property taxes,” said Simon, a Republican who represents Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer and Middlesex counties.

The agreements between the township, Police Chief Robert Buchanan and Business Administrator Jim Pascale, obtained by Planet Princeton through the state’s Open Public Records Act, allow the pair to takes leaves of absence starting at the end of this week and lasting until the end of the year, when they will formally retire. They will collect their regular 2012 salaries until then, along with all their benefits and pension contributions.

“Keeping top-tier administrators on the payroll for nine months after their unofficial retirement is no better for taxpayers than giving them a large check,” Simon said. “In either scenario, public employees are paid for not working and that that doesn’t work for taxpayers.”

Simon is one of 18 Assembly Republicans sponsoring, A-2495, which would prohibit cash payouts for new public employees. It would also require a doctor’s note whenever any new or current public employee uses six consecutive sick days. The measure would prevent the abusive use of sick time in someone’s final year of employment known as terminal leave, she said.

Trenton Democrats in the Assembly have drafted legislation that Simon said would preserve loopholes such as terminal leave and cash payouts of up to $7,500.

“The Republican reform would ensure that accrued sick days would only be used in cases of catastrophic illness or injury,” she said. “The Princetons are serving as an example of how towns can work together to reduce costs for property taxpayers, and they’re also highlighting how municipalities’ efforts to reduce the property-tax burden can be hampered by state laws that allow wasteful expenses.”

In response to Simon’s criticism, Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner said it is “obvious that Simon does not know that the Township does not provide cash payouts for employees’ unused sick time.”

“While I would agree with not having payouts for unused sick time and would even consider the bill she is sponsoring, it is clear that the freshman Assemblywoman has clearly not done her homework before blasting off a misguided press release.  But that’s ok, I’ll chalk it up as a rookie mistake,” Goerner said.

But Simon knows the two are not receiving cash payments for sick time. Her argument is that the months of being on the payroll for sick time and terminal time is just as good as a payout, because the employees are getting paid salaries while they are not working.

But Goerner said the severance agreements for the administrator and chief are in accordance with the personnel manual applicable to current municipal employees.

“The law requires the payment of 3 months of separation pay when an administrator leaves,” he said. “We do reimburse for unused vacation time and pay terminal leave of 2 days of pay for each year of service. The severance agreements are more than reasonable when the years of service are considered.”

Goerner said that with both Pascale and Buchanan leaving, two redundant positions are eliminated as the township moves forward with municipal consolidation.  “This will ensure that in 2013, the new governing body and taxpayers will receive an even greater level of savings than if these positions were eliminated at the end of 2012,” he said. “It paves the way to make sure that the savings of consolidation are carried on to taxpayers.  We are not adding staff to replace these positions at this time and have named our CFO as an acting administrator.”

Both Buchanan and Pascale went public with their retirement plans on March 21. One elected official said  in at least one news report this week that he learned about Buchanan’s retirement on March 21 when Buchanan called, and said he was unaware of how much sick and leave time the two had accrued. Yet the severance agreements for Buchanan and Pascale were finalized and signed on March 16 and 18.

According to public records, Pascale was paid $180, 508 in 2010 and Buchanan was paid $153,312.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Richard Stockton

    Assemblywoman Simon is right to criticize this arrangement. Whether it’s a giant cash payout for unused sick time or an overly genorous severance package, this is the kind of practice that adds to taxpayer cynicism. And all we get from Chad Goerner is smart-alecky condescension.

  • Aaron

    This is a real story and could be a very dangerous precedent. Not only are taxpayer paying for pensions, we are now paying severance benefits to those that retire that are equivalent to what we should legitimately pay to someone that is downsized. Goerner should be quoting the “law” about what is due to someone upon their retirement, not upon their termination without cause. Also, how did we get to the point that these salaries are this high? Were these people really that good?

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