Should Indicted NJ Politicians Be Forced To Step Down? [AUDIO]
Did you know that in New Jersey even elected officials indicted for serious crimes related to their office do not have to immediately step down pending the outcome of their case?
State Senator Shirley Turner wants voters to have the chance next November to decide if they support a state constitutional amendment that would temporarily suspend without pay elected officials who are indicted for wrongdoing from their official duties, and would remove them from office upon conviction.
Turner represents Trenton and Hamilton is in her neighboring district.
She says, "Residents are just demoralized and embarrassed and they just want them (Mack and Bencivengo) to be gone. They won't resign because they're getting paid and they want their paycheck."
The constitutional change is necessary to ensure that residents are not left hanging in limbo when elected officials are indicted and split their time between their criminal defense and the needs of their office says Turner. She understands that many indicted officials do not resign their office on the advice of legal counsel that argues that doing so would be tantamount to admitting their guilt. She says that the suspension provision of the amendment nullifies that argument, allowing officials who are innocent of criminal charges to resume office upon their acquittal.
"Public employees charged with certain crimes are often suspended without pay pending the outcome of the charges, but with elected officials, we must rely on them to make the decision to step down," says Turner. "Elected officials are entrusted by the public to conduct themselves legally and ethically, and they should be held to the highest standards of integrity."
Under state statute, convicted officials are removed from office; if adopted by voters, the amendment would enshrine that penalty in the state constitution. Elected officials found guilty of any crime connected to their public offices forfeit all of the public pension or retirement benefits earned for the office held at the time the crime was committed, according to a law enacted in 2007.
Turner thinks, "The taxpayers should not be expected to continue paying indicted elected officials' salaries simply because the officials, by virtue of their elected positions, are treated more favorably than other public workers. They, too, should be removed from the public payroll pending the outcome of their charges."
If the Senator's measure is approved by the legislature the voters would decide the issue at the ballot in November 2013.
"Indicted elected officials who claim to be able to fully maintain their official duties while simultaneously fighting a criminal complaint are both deluding themselves and depriving our residents," explains Turner. "When even one moment of time is taken away from an elected official's duties to be spent on a legal defense, our residents ultimately suffer. With so many challenges facing so many levels of government, we can no longer allow that to happen."