The Latest from Rockaway, Part II

The latest round in the legal fracas enveloping Rockaway Township goes to the mayor.

A state Superior Court judge ruled this week that Mayor Michael Dachisen was legally entitled to receive township health benefits.

Whether what are officially part-time elected officials deserve municipal health benefits often is a contentious issues, made more so by the escalating cost over the years of health insurance.

A 2010 state law banned part-time elected officials from receiving such benefits, but those in office at the time were grandfathered.

It was that “grandfather premise” that was challenged in a suit filed by Tucker Kelley, who was then a private citizen, but who is now a councilman. Kelly was elected last fall.

Dachisen was a councilman when the law was passed in 2010, but he subsequently became acting mayor and then mayor after the resignation of Mayor Lou Sceusi, who is now a judge.

Kelley, who has had, one would say, “a history” with Dachisen claimed that the now-mayor lost his grandfather protection when he moved from the council to acting mayor and then full-time mayor.

Kelley argued that the changing jobs were a break in service and that the mayor no longer deserved benefits.

The court disagreed.

Passaic County Assignment Judge Ernest Caposela, who heard the case to avoid any conflict in Morris County, ruled this week that Dachisen was an elected official when the relevant state law was adopted in 2010 and that he has “remained an appointed or elected officer continuously thereafter without a break in service.” Thus, he is eligible for township health benefits, the judge said.

Looking at this from afar, Kelley’s contention that part-timers don’t deserve taxpayer-funded benefits is a good one. But his argument was quite dubious. 

Dachisen never left the council, or public service in Rockaway Township, when Sceuci resigned.

But Rockaway Township’s political saga is not yet over.

There is another suit demanding the judge’s attention. This one filed by the mayor.

The impetus was a council resolution in May forming a committee to investigate the mayor for possible theft of service and two other officials, the town attorney and the now-resigned business administrator, for insubordination.

The mayor’s suit seeks to nullify the resolution. Caposela has set June 29 for a hearing.

If nothing else, this promises to be entertaining.

The township council has hired five lawyers to defend itself and its members.

Five? Wonder who’s bringing the basketball.

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