Many local governments and school districts have not submitted their employee contracts to the state Public Employment Relations Commission, which posts the contracts on its website for easy public access, a review by The Press of Atlantic City has found.
New Jersey municipal governments, public schools and other public agencies have been required for more than 40 years to send copies of all employee contracts to the PERC.
The Press review this month found numerous local governments, public agencies and school boards missing current contracts. Some are just a year or two behind, while others have been missing for years.
A few examples:
* The most recent teachers’ contract posted for the Margate Board of Education is from 1983-86.
* The Avalon Board of Education’s last posted filing was the 1985-87 teachers’ contract.
* Tuckerton’s most recently posted municipal contract expired in 1996.
* The most recent posted contract for the Egg Harbor Township teachers union expired in 2009.
* Contracts posted for unions at Atlantic Cape Community College, Cumberland County College and Ocean County College have expired, except for adjunct faculty at OCC.
* In Atlantic City, the police union contract was current through December, but all others had expired at least a year earlier.
* In Galloway Township, the police union contract is current, but it is the only contract posted.
* Ocean City’s fire and police contracts are current, but all others are expired.
Currently, there is no penalty for failure to comply. In June, state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, introduced a bill that would impose a fine of as much as $1,000 for failure to submit a contract within 15 days of the contract’s execution. She said that without a penalty, there is no real incentive to file, which could allow public officials to hide contract benefits they don’t want the public to see.
No action has been taken on the bill, which was referred to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee.
The bill was created after the State Commission on Investigation noted missing contracts in a May report on contract benefits given to public labor union representatives, and media reports highlighted the issue.
The law was updated effective January 2011 and requires all past and current contracts not already posted to be sent electronically to the PERC. Current contracts must include a summary of all costs and their impacts, and must be filed within 15 days of execution.
The Press of Atlantic City contacted numerous municipal and school officials for comment on why contracts were not posted. Some officials made no response. Other personnel could not explain the discrepancy, some because they had not been in the position long enough to know.
Atlantic Cape spokeswoman Kathleen Corbalis said the college’s failure to file the most recent contracts, settled in fall 2011, was an oversight. The previous contracts, which expired in 2010, are posted.
Spokesmen for groups that represent government officials said they don’t think the oversight is intentional. A reminder would solve the problem as effectively as a penalty, they said.
“The municipal clerks should not have a penalty hanging over their heads,” Joel Popkin, executive director of the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey, said. Clerks are responsible for sending hundreds of reports annually to state and county agencies, and many departments have seen staff reductions in recent years because of budget cuts, he said.
Popkin said he expects that the percentage of contracts not filed is small. He said he is sure that a large percentage of the 566 municipal clerks in the state have been properly filing contracts.
The PERC has posted a reminder of the state law on its home page, along with a link to the certification letter that must accompany the contracts.
Lorraine Tesauro, director of conciliation and arbitration for the PERC, said she does not believe public agencies ignore the law. They just forget to file the contracts, she said. Most government agencies and school boards have multiple contracts that come due at different times, and many are not settled in a timely manner, she said. By the time they are completed, the filing requirement is overlooked.
She said the PERC sent a mass email reminder when the issue was publicized last year. Submitted contracts are typically posted on the website within 24 hours of their receipt. She said the website has been available for at least a decade, but it may be getting more notice recently because people want information quickly.
“We are a society accustomed to having access to information,” she said.
Representatives of the New Jersey School Boards Association and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities said they also sent out reminders last year and would do so regularly.
“Contracts typically come up every three years, so they are not on the radar screen on a regular basis,” School Boards Association spokesman Mike Yaple said. “And now, PERC wants the analysis as well, so it’s more work than it used to be.”
League of Municipalities Executive Director William G. Dressel Jr. said the organization’s first reminder went to mayors. He sent another reminder this month to municipal clerks.
“The requirement did surface again during all the Christie reforms,” Dressel said. “I had forgotten about it myself, and realized people needed a reminder.”
He said he would prefer to not comment on the need for penalties until he had a better idea of why the contracts were not being filed.
“A reminder might be enough, and I’ll dust off my letter and take that on myself,” Dressel said.
Contact Diane D’Amico: