Westfield Officials Have Yet to Comment on Pension Investigation

A report from the state comptroller shows that 202 independent contractors from 58 municipalities, including Westfield, should have been removed from the state's pension fund.

More than 200 independent contractors in the state have been illegally clocking hours toward their pension and benefits since 2008, according to a report released last Tuesday.

State Comptroller Matthew Boxer issued the findings of an investigation of 58 municipalities and school districts that found 57 of them -- including the Town of Westfield  -- failed to remove private and independent contractors from the pension system. Neighboring towns Fanwood and Moutainside also made the list. 

The 58 public entities reviewed are only a fraction however of the 515 municipalities and 597 school districts in the state.  

The investigation found that there were 202 people enrolled in the pension system, and recommended to the Division of Pensions and Benefits to review and remove them.

A 2007 law identified that individuals are ineligible for state pension credits and benefits if they are an independent contractor or retained through the public contracting process. Individuals should have been taken out of the system by 2008. 

Those 202 people illegally enrolled in the pension system consisted of 176 attorneys, 21 engineers, four heath care providers, and one auditor, according to Boxer's report. In addition, each of those enrollees appears to be employed at or operating a private firm. 

The cost to the state is estimated to be $1.9 million per year in pension benefits.

Ironically in some cases, local governments were advised to keep their attorney in the pension system based on the legal advice of the same attorney whose pension eligibility was in question. 

“Government officials should not be relying on pension eligibility advice from the very attorney whose eligibility is at issue,” Boxer wrote in the press release. “That just flies in the face of common sense.”

So just who in the Town of Westfield has been skirting the pension law? 

"The names are not being released until the state Division of Pensions and Benefits has conducted their review," Boxer's office told Patch.

The report further states that the failure of local governments to properly implement the 2007 law occurred despite guidance letters issued both by the Division of Pensions and Benefits and by the Department of Community Affairs, directing local officials to review and document the status of all local professional service providers. 

A call and an email to Westfield Town Administrator Jim Gildea were not returned as of 8 p.m. Tuesday.

To read the Office of the State Comptroller's reports in their entirety, click here and here.

Check back with Patch for updates as more information becomes available. 

J. Dillgay July 25, 2012 at 02:31 AM
I wish I could respond to the Patch but Im attending an Ethics in Town Administration course. I'm hoping to pass the course this time around. Michael and Elizabeth, maybe the town attorney will answer your emails and hone calls. On second thought, he is busy also. He is here with me. Call the Mayor's office, maybe he can answer your questions. Oh wait, I just remembered, he is sitting behind me here at the ethics class. But he has a mask on so I forgot he was here. You should see it, it's a Richard Nixon mask.
A.John Blake July 25, 2012 at 10:10 AM
It would seem that the officials who ran for office on the promise of openness and transparency should be the first to respond to questions raised by the Comptroller. Certainly there is someone in Town Hall who approves or certifies that an individual is qualified to be in the retirement system. Why wouldn't the Administrator's office put the Patch in touch with him/her? Who received the two letters of warning from the State? What was done to implement the new law? Was an opinion obtained concerning the new law? From whom? Who was the head of the Finance Committee when the new law was passed? Did he/she do anything to take advantage of the savings for the Town? Considering the constant mantra of "hard economic times" emanating from the Town government, it would seem that the Town should jump at the chance to remove the offending and dishonest employee from the roster of the PERS. When we hear that the Town can't afford to do numerous things, we should expect the Town to return calls to the Patch, and others, announcing another savings. Why wouldn't the Town officials jump at the chance to tell us how this happened and the protections it has set up? A.John Blake
Sally McBride July 25, 2012 at 11:32 AM
> A call and an email to Westfield Town Administrator Jim Gildea were > not returned as of 8 p.m. Tuesday. So when did you place the call?
Elizabeth Alterman (Editor) July 25, 2012 at 11:45 AM
An email was sent Friday afternoon and a call was placed before noon on Monday.
Westfield Parent July 25, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Sally McBride is a typical bully many of whom live in Westfield. The are self-righteous, nasty and ready to attack others at any moment and on any occasion. To them, there is no right or wrong. Only thing that matters to them is who are in power and who are not. Kudos to the Patch Editors for being professionally impartial and doing a great service to this town!
Unemployed July 25, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Ridiculous nonsense. Where's the accountability? Oh, I forgot, they're politicians. Accountability and ethics don't apply.
Jeff B July 25, 2012 at 02:44 PM
John, I am reminded here of the the three monkeys, who "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". Unfortunately, if one turns over a rock and finds something bad underneath, it makes one wonder what else has been hidden from public view. It will be interesting to see if they will comment on it at the next Town Council meeting. I think the town has historically had a better reputation than Union County or the Board of Education. It would be a shame for that perception to change. I also would like to compliment Patch on its coverage of issues relevant to residents.
Time for change July 26, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Sally McBride is nothing more than a town council sympathizer, if not, a town council member.
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