A Health Benefits Collision of Heavy Hitters in Rockaway

Health benefits are quite important, but really now, are they worth ripping apart a town?

Probably not, but that may be happening in Rockaway Township, at least when it comes to local government.

In May, the township council passed a resolution to investigate John Iaciofano, the township attorney, and business administrator Adam Brewer, who has since resigned.

That was odd in itself; now the mayor, Michael Dachisen, has responded with a lawsuit seeking to nullify that resolution.

Five council members backed the investigatory resolution and all of them have retained their own lawyers. The mayor, of course, has his lawyer as well.

Some of the barristers involved are familiar names in state and county politics.

Dachisen’s suit was filed by a lawyer with a firm headed by former state senator and now Port Authority board chairman Kevin O’Toole.

Lawyers on the other side include John Inglesino, a former township mayor and county freeholder, and Robert Russell, whose wife was a state Superior Court judge. Russell also has experience with what really lies at the heart of this case – health benefits for part-time council members – through work he did years ago in a case out of Mount Olive.

So, what’s going on here? And why should the public care?

Let’s start with Tucker Kelley, who is described as a “political agitator”  in the legal filing on behalf of the mayor.

In truth, Kelley long has been an agitator, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. A more benign name for an agitator would be watchdog.

Kelley was elected to the council last fall. Prior to that, he filed a suit that claimed the mayor and another member of the council, John Quinn, were improperly receiving municipal healthy benefits.

We digress.

By any objective standard, health benefits should be reserved for full time employees, not part-time officials.

In fact, a state law that took effect in 2010 adopted that standard.

Still, those enrolled before 2010 were grandfathered.

The tricky aspect of this case is that Dachisen, who had been council president became acting mayor after 2010 because of a resignation. His opponents say he lost his grandfather protection because his public position was changed.

This seems like a tough argument to make, Dachisen’s position was not changed by any overt act he took- like running for another office. It was changed simply because the council president becomes mayor when the mayor resigns.

No matter, that case is in the courts in Passaic County.

The latest skirmish surfaced when Council President Jeremy Jedynak and a council majority instructed the township attorney and business administrator to stay out of the Kelley litigation.

Why?

After all, isn’t it the job of the township attorney to defend the municipality when suits are filed against it?

The council majority says no, contending that Kelley did not file his suit against the township.

Jedynak insists that the “township attorney appears to be acting in the personal interest of Mayor  Dachisen rather than in the interest of the township.”

The council majority’s next step occurred in May.

That’s when it adopted the aforementioned resolution to formally investigate the attorney and business administrator, who reportedly instructed Iaciofano to get involved in the Kelley litigation. This Rockaway Township version of the Watergate Committee has five member and its own attorney, Vij Pawar. Trivia buffs may recall that in another life, Pawar once ran as a Democrat against Rodney P. Frelinghuysen in Congressional District 11. (He probably wishes he was running this year).

The mayor’s suit says the resolution naming an investigatory committee should be nullified,. The legal papers also say Jedynak is trying to assume the powers of mayor and suggested that if he wants to be mayor, he should run for the job.

So there.

A hearing on the mayor’s suit is set for June 29 in Passaic County.

Political spats often end up in court. That in itself is no revelation.

But this battle seems particularly unfortunate.

It is consuming time, a battery of attorneys and taking attention away from what the mayor and council should be doing – that would be running the township.

And what began the case is what part-time elected officials should not be doing – taking taxpayer-funded health benefits.

(Visited 34 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

News From Around the Web

The Political Landscape