LOWER TOWNSHIP — Councilman Glenn Douglass had a choice between collecting his pension from a career in law enforcement and keeping his position representing the 3rd Ward.
He chose the pension. That means 3rd Ward voters will go to the polls for a special election Nov. 5 to replace Douglass.
But in another strange quirk from a 2011 state law designed to control public employee health and pension costs, Douglass plans to be a candidate for the seat he just vacated.
Confused? So is everybody involved.
“I filed for retirement, and they said this new law is in effect, so to be legal and retire, I have to resign. The stupid part of the law is one month after my retirement date, I’m a bona fide retiree, and I’m legal to run,” Douglass said. “This is going to affect a lot of people on the county level. I’m the only one that has come before the pension board since 2011 when this went into effect.”
Mayor Mike Beck said at the very least Douglass should have been grandfathered in under the new rules since he won his four-year term in November 2010. Gov. Chris Christie signed the law June 28, 2011.
“It’s not right. You pass a law after you’re elected that forces you to resign to get your pension,” Beck said.
The 2011 law was mainly designed to increase contributions by public employees to health and pension plans with a goal of reducing the impact on taxpayers but also making the programs more solvent in the future. It also tried to cut back on the multiple public pensions some workers have.
Douglass, 54, has worked in the public sector for 29 years. He has served several stints on Township Council and has worked for the state Department of Corrections and the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office.
Bill Quinn, a spokesman for the state Department of Treasury, said Douglass filed paperwork Aug. 19 to retire effective Sept. 1. Quinn said Douglass is set to receive a monthly check of $3,869.24.
Quinn, however, said the law requires Douglass to temporarily give up his elected position that contributed to his retirement benefits.
“The requirement is if you want to retire from one of these positions, then you have to retire from all of them at the same time. If Mr. Douglass wants to retire from the Department of Corrections, he has to retire from the township as well,” Quinn said.
Douglass said his $12,000 council salary added to his pension, but he made his own contributions that the township does not contribute to.
He resigned his council seat Friday and expects Sept. 1 to be his official retirement date from the state, though his paperwork is still being processed. Quinn said the state is waiting for data from his employer, but it can be approved retroactively to Sept. 1.
Douglass said one month must pass before he can seek public office, so he could be eligible to run as early as Oct. 1.
“If he runs he can collect a salary but not participate in any future pension plans. That’s not likely to be an issue because he’s already taken his pension out,” said Quinn, who said this is the first such specific case he has heard of.
Douglass’ political future remains unclear. He won the 2010 Republican primary but was not the party’s pick. He has aligned himself on council with Beck, who is an independent often at odds with the county’s Republican Party.
Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti said the Republican and Democratic parties have until Sept. 12 to give her a name to put on the ballot. There is also a chance council could appoint somebody to replace Douglass from now until the election.
“They can put me right back into it by appointing me as of Oct. 1,” Douglass said.
That council pick, however, may have to come from a list of names supplied by the Republicans.
Even if he is not appointed to the seat or selected by the Republicans to run for the unexpired term, Douglass said he can file as an independent and be on the November ballot.
“Sept. 12 is the date to file as an independent. I already have the papers in my truck,” Douglass said.
He also could appeal the ruling. Douglass said he could argue it is unconstitutional to not only use a pension law to take away his rights but also the rights of the voters who elected him. He said he is looking into whether he could stay in office without a salary.
Fulginiti said the seat was declared vacant Friday, and it is up to the committee members of the two parties to provide candidates for the November ballot. She was unsure whether only 3rd Ward committee members made that decision.
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