Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Reins in Elections Chiefs' Spending

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Reins in Elections Chiefs' Spending

Article excerpt

Governor Christie signed two bills designed to rein in spending by county elections superintendents across the state, handing a victory to Passaic County's all-Democratic freeholder board in its budget battle with Christie's elections appointee, Sherine El-Abd.

Taken together, the bills for the first time give county officials the tools to limit spending by the county superintendent of elections. As a state official, the elections superintendent has until now been empowered to set her own budget without any oversight, even though it's the county taxpayers who foot the bill.

One bill, S-3168, imposes the state's 2 percent budget cap on the superintendent of elections. The other bill, S-3170, subjects the superintendent of elections to budgetary review by the county freeholder board.

The changes, which take effect immediately, grew out of a lawsuit filed last year by the Passaic County Board of Freeholders against El-Abd. In the suit, the freeholders claimed that El-Abd negotiated a sweetheart contract with her union workers, represented by Local 1032 of the Communications Workers of America.

The freeholders claimed that the contract allowed for excessive pay increases, introduced merit bonuses, and froze the cost of health care to employees. They asked a Superior Court judge to set aside the pact because the county couldn't afford it.

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. …

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