TRENTON – Monmouth County commissioners didn’t follow state law in raising salaries for themselves and the county sheriff, according to results of an investigation by the state comptroller made public Thursday.

“Transparency as to the salaries of public officials is a critical safeguard against misuse of taxpayer funds,” acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh said in a letter to the Monmouth commissioner board.

“By not following the public process, the Monmouth County Board of Commissioners deprived voters an opportunity to participate in the county government in the way required by law,” the comptroller’s office said in a news release. “Circumventing the public process undermines transparency and public confidence in local government.”

There is a five-step public process required for salary increases, but none of the steps were followed when the commissioners raised their salaries from $27,000 to $30,000 in 2020, according to the state comptroller.

They also didn’t follow the procedure in increasing the salary of Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden by more than $42,000 over five years, from $136,133 in 2016 to $178,343 in 2021.

The process is supposed to include introducing a resolution with the salary change, providing notice of a public hearing, holding the public hearing and voting in a public meeting on the resolution approving the increase. State law also allows members of the public to challenge a salary increase and to require it to be voted on during the general election.

In response to the comptroller’s findings, the county has proposed a resolution raising the commissioners’ salaries, including a public hearing on Jan. 27, and passed a resolution setting the sheriff’s higher salary at its Jan. 6 meeting.

The investigation began when the comptroller’s office received multiple complaints, following coverage of the issue by the Asbury Park Press.

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The salary for a Monmouth County commissioner – at that time, called a freeholder – had been raised to $30,000 in 2002 but was cut by 10% to $27,000 in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession. It was restored to $30,000 in 2020, with county officials citing the 2002 salary increase as authorization.

“The board’s reliance on a then-eighteen-year-old resolution to increase the commissioners’ salaries —particularly after that resolution had been superseded by a subsequent resolution in 2009 — frustrated the requirements of and policy underlying” state law, the comptroller’s office said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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