A longtime elected official in Buena Vista Township will be able to reapply for his pension, now that a New Jersey appellate court ruled his application was wrongly denied in 2011.
Buena Vista Township Committeeman Chuck Chiarello submitted his application for disability retirement in February 2011 from his job as an airport facilities manager at Atlantic City International Airport. Chiarello served as mayor of Buena Vistas Township since 1995 and has been a committeeman since losing a bid for mayor earlier this year.
The board of the Public Employees Retirement System issued a decision in September 2011 rejecting the application due to a law enacted four months earlier that requires public employees who hold multiple public jobs to retire from all of the positions to receive their disability pensions. The law was enacted after Chiarello submitted his application but before the pension board issued a decision.
“Basically, the court decided it was unfair to hold that change in the law against me since my application was submitted prior to the change,” said Chiarello, who said his health problems impose severe physical limitations.
He plans to reapply for the benefits in January, he said.
In Chiarello’s first application, he sought to retire as of March 1, 2011. The pension board delayed processing the application, and during that time the law was changed.
“A change in the law during a delay in the processing of the retirement application ... should not deprive an employee of the benefits that were promised at the time he entered public employment and that remained due when he sought to retire,” states an opinion by the three-judge panel on Dec. 20. “To hold otherwise could lead to mischievous results.”
Chiarello, also a former chairman of the Atlantic County Democratic Party, was hired by the South Jersey Transportation Authority in 2002 as manager of the Atlantic City Expressway. His appointment by then-Gov. James McGreevey’s administration was initially criticized as political.
Chiarello was re-elected to the township committee in November, a job he intends to continue with despite his physical limitations.
“I love my community,” he said. “Saying I couldn’t continue would be like telling Franklin Delano Roosevelt he couldn’t be president because he was in a wheelchair.”
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