By Tom O’Neill and Bill Schluter
I’m from New Jersey
I don’t expect too much
— From the song, I’m from New Jersey
Copyright 1991, John Gorka High Street Records/ Windham Hill Records
It was a mistake and I apologize.
I own up to it. It’s my responsibility.
— Linden Councilman Ralph Strano, quoted in the Star-Ledger on June 1, 2007, after being caught driving his county car–he’s the Union County Mosquito Control Bureau chief–while putting up lawn signs for his re-election bid.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
New Jersey took a significant step with a new law banning anyone not already doing so from holding two elected offices at the same time. Dual office holding stifles political participation and government accountability–as detailed in the report One to a Customer: The Democratic Downsides of Dual Office Holding, released in June 2006 by New Jersey Policy Perspective and Demos: a Network for Ideas and Action.
Dual elected office holding, however, turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg. Serious conflicts of interest and obligation, as well as threats to government performance and trustworthiness, arise not only when one person serves as both state legislator and mayor, or mayor and county freeholder. Those problems arise as well from a practice that–our research shows–is more pervasive but, except when a high-profile scandal breaks out, less visible.
Across the state, over 700 elected state, county and municipal officials also hold another, non-elected public sector position. Some hold more than one. New Jersey should now turn its attention to this issue in the effort to promote government that functions effectively in the public interest and a political system that gives less room for public suspicion–often well-grounded–that personal interests come first.
This report examines combined elected and non-elected job holding in New Jersey. It estimates the extent of the practice and assesses its effects on the quality and character of government. It also suggests standards for what should and should not be acceptable–an important task for the leaders of our state to complete.
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