15 Sep 2014
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Westfield Officials Have Yet to Comment on Pension Investigation

A report from the state comptroller shows that 202 independent contractors from 58 municipalities, including Westfield, should have been removed from the state's pension fund.

Westfield Officials Have Yet to Comment on Pension Investigation

More than 200 independent contractors in the state have been illegally clocking hours toward their pension and benefits since 2008, according to a report released last Tuesday.

State Comptroller Matthew Boxer issued the findings of an investigation of 58 municipalities and school districts that found 57 of them -- including the Town of Westfield  -- failed to remove private and independent contractors from the pension system. Neighboring towns Fanwood and Moutainside also made the list. 

The 58 public entities reviewed are only a fraction however of the 515 municipalities and 597 school districts in the state.  

The investigation found that there were 202 people enrolled in the pension system, and recommended to the Division of Pensions and Benefits to review and remove them.

A 2007 law identified that individuals are ineligible for state pension credits and benefits if they are an independent contractor or retained through the public contracting process. Individuals should have been taken out of the system by 2008. 

Those 202 people illegally enrolled in the pension system consisted of 176 attorneys, 21 engineers, four heath care providers, and one auditor, according to Boxer's report. In addition, each of those enrollees appears to be employed at or operating a private firm. 

The cost to the state is estimated to be $1.9 million per year in pension benefits.

Ironically in some cases, local governments were advised to keep their attorney in the pension system based on the legal advice of the same attorney whose pension eligibility was in question. 

“Government officials should not be relying on pension eligibility advice from the very attorney whose eligibility is at issue,” Boxer wrote in the press release. “That just flies in the face of common sense.”

So just who in the Town of Westfield has been skirting the pension law? 

"The names are not being released until the state Division of Pensions and Benefits has conducted their review," Boxer's office told Patch.

The report further states that the failure of local governments to properly implement the 2007 law occurred despite guidance letters issued both by the Division of Pensions and Benefits and by the Department of Community Affairs, directing local officials to review and document the status of all local professional service providers. 

A call and an email to Westfield Town Administrator Jim Gildea were not returned as of 8 p.m. Tuesday.

To read the Office of the State Comptroller's reports in their entirety, click here and here.

Check back with Patch for updates as more information becomes available. 

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