Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Election Budget Control May Shift

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Election Budget Control May Shift

Article excerpt

Democrats in the state Legislature have introduced a bill that would rein in the autonomy of the governor-appointed superintendent of elections by shifting the power to control spending to county freeholders.

The bill, S-3170, sponsored by state Sen. Nellie Pou, D-North Haledon, would require the superintendent of elections to adhere to the county administrative code, which is adopted each year by the freeholders. Through the administrative code, the freeholders can either raise or cut spending in any department of county government.

If adopted, the Freeholder Board would effectively gain veto power over the elections superintendent's budget -- a power the freeholders have never enjoyed.

Passaic County recently lost a court battle in which it challenged Elections Superintendent Sherine El-Abd's power to negotiate a labor contract with her staff, leaving the freeholders grumbling about having to foot the bill with no say in the negotiations.

"All offices funded by the county government must be under the statutory power of the Board of Chosen Freeholders so costs can be contained and reckless agreements like one negotiated by Superintendent El-Abd can be prevented," said Freeholder Pat Lepore, the chairman of the budget committee.

Historically, the county superintendent of elections has been kept above the political fray, given that the office is charged with maintaining balloting machines and ensuring that elections are conducted fairly.

To shield the office from political interference, the law states that the superintendent has the sole authority over all "necessary" spending to assure fair elections -- and although the county taxpayers foot the bill, the freeholders have no control over how much is spent.

El-Abd, a Clifton Republican appointed by Governor Christie, has repeatedly clashed with the all-Democratic Freeholder Board since she took office. She could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Passaic County filed suit against El-Abd in March, complaining that a labor deal she signed with Local 1032 of the Communications Workers of America contained pay and benefit hikes that were too generous. …

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