ATLANTIC CITY — Voters would get a chance to decide whether the mayor should be the highest-paid civilian city worker — meaning a 15 percent raise for Lorenzo Langford next year — if a petition submitted Tuesday has more than 1,050 valid signatures.
Petition results were submitted Tuesday afternoon to the Atlantic City clerk by former Councilman Harold Mosee, a Democrat, and Jesse Kurtz, the Republican who challenged Langford in 2010 and longtime Sixth Ward Councilman Tim Mancuso last year.
City Council approved an ordinance April 25 that requires the mayor’s salary will be at least 1 percent greater than the highest paid civilian city employee, effective January 2013. That would boost Langford’s $103,000 base pay to $118,874 — 1 percent more than the $117,697 salary paid Chief Municipal Judge Bruce Ward, former city solicitor. Before that, he was a private attorney and First Ward councilman.
Langford, who did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment, and councilmen justified the new pay guidelines by saying private-sector CEO’s are paid make much more. He also has said he would consider the city’s financial position before accepting the raise next year.
But if the petition submitted Tuesday makes it through the rest of the process, resort voters would choose whether to approve that ordinance in November, said Mark Padula, chairman of the local Republican Party.
If a majority votes against it, the ordinance — and the new salary formula it establishes — would be ineffective, and not lead to a raise for Langford, he said.
Atlantic City is among the 134 — or 24 percent — of New Jersey municipalities where voters can directly affect laws dealing with public officials’ salaries through a referendum that is binding. Voters can seek referendum in any municipality, but officials are required to act according to the results only in places where the local government is organized under the Faulkner Act. Everywhere else, a referendum amounts to an advisory opinion, according to a report from the state Office of Legislative Services.
Officials in municipalities with the commission form of government — there are 32 statewide — also are bound by referenda, just not those that deal with public worker salaries, the report states.
Before the mayor salary ordinance can make it onto the ballot in Atlantic City, Clerk Rhonda Williams must verify all signatures on the petition.
State law requires at least 5 percent of registered voters in the municipality to approve petitions seeking a referendum on public employee salaries.
In Atlantic City, 20,000 people are registered to vote, so 1,050 signatures are needed, Kurtz said.
They collected slightly more than 1,050 — more than enough, but less than their goal of 2,000.
If the signatures check out, Williams would submit the petition to Atlantic City Council. The governing body must vote within five days of receiving it to send a request to the Atlantic County clerk to put the petition on the ballot, according New Jersey law states.
Kurtz, Mosee and Padula started their campaign within a week of the ordinance passing. The group called on the mayor to “lead by example” given the 9 percent tax increase facing non-casino property owners next year, stated to a release issued Tuesday by Padula.
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