Mercer GOP goes after sheriff over pension

With Mercer County facing a $43 million budget shortfall and County Executive Brian Hughes raising the possibility of public worker layoffs, local Republican Chairman Roy Wesley wants to know why Sheriff Kevin Larkin is collecting a pension for the job he’s still working.

On January 1st, Larkin met the requirements for the Police and Fire Retirement System, at which point he started receiving a pension of about $85,000 per year. But he remains employed as sheriff, concurrently collecting his regular salary of $129,364.

Wesley thinks that, while legal, Larkin’s collection of the benefits represents a double standard, and that Larkin should either resign or wait until he actually retires to collect the pension. As a public official, he said, he ought to set an example.

“Why are we paying for his retirement from the same job that we are paying his salary for now?” said Wesley. “What County Executive [Brian] Hughes and the Freeholder Board have failed to do is to set an example by stopping the double dipping by Sheriff Kevin Larkin, before even thinking about laying off hardworking county employee to balance the budget.”

Wesley’s charge might have political resonance in an election year. Former Atlantic County Sheriff Jim McGettigan, a Democrat, faced similar criticism during his unsuccessful 2007 county executive campaign and 2008 reelection bid. But Larkin just won reelection last year against a spirited challenge from Jim McSorley, a former State Trooper and policy director for U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton).

Hughes said that he was powerless to stop Larkin from collecting a pension that he is entitled to by law, although he said that he hopes the legislature will write new legislation that will not allow public officials to collect a pension for the job they’re currently in. The original legislation, he noted, was sponsored by former Senate President and Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco and signed by former Gov. Christie Whitman – both Republicans.

“I know what he’s trying to do, but Roy really doesn’t understand the New Jersey pension system if he thinks county executives and freeholder boards have authority over who gets a pension and who doesn’t,” he said.

Mercer County Democratic Chairman Richard McClellan said that Wesley was the one using a double standard because he did not criticize a Republican in Hamilton for having more than one pension.

“Republican Party Chair Wesley is a hotbed of contradiction. He attacks the Mercer County Sheriff for taking advantage of state pension laws while ignoring the fact that John Ricci, Hamilton Township Administrator, has been doing the same thing for several years with the full approval of Republican Mayor John Bencivengo,” said McClellan. ” Perhaps he could explain why the laws are ok for Republicans and not for Democrats?”

Hamilton Republican Municipal Chairman Frank Randazzo said that the situation is not similar because Ricci’s pension is from a different job.

“Comparing John Ricci with the Sheriff’s position is a transparent diversion from the truth,” he said. “The simple truth is this: a person is working for the county on a Friday, receives a $45,000 sick and vacation pay check and then receives an $85,000 pension for the rest of his life and is the same position, same title with no break in service. John Ricci was working for the county, there was a four-and-a-half year break, and he took a totally different position with Hamilton Township. Nice try, but no ciga.”

Larkin could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mercer GOP goes after sheriff over pension