Inside Ocean County Government

Ocean County, The Gravy Train

Lesniak Calls State Parole Board “Dumping Ground” for Patronage

Senator Lesniak

After he was victorious in his crusade against embattled Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly, State Senator Ray Lesniak (D – Elizabeth) is pushing forward with his proposal to reshape the New Jersey State Parole Board, and replace politically appointed members with retired judges, in a proposal that he claims will save “millions” in taxpayer dollars.

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly

Senator Lesniak

Senator Lesniak

With an announcement made by State Senate President Steve Sweeney, Freeholder Kelly – citing what could prove to be an embarrassing, politically charged confirmation hearing – recently gave up his quest to obtain a patronage appointment from Governor Chris Christie to a seat on the parole board, and the six-figure salary that was to come with it.

But stopping Jack Kelly was just the first step, according to Senator Ray Lesniak, who is pushing his plan to the eliminate politically appointed positions, which are often seen as favors given by out by politicians to reward supporters, a classic example of the toxic climate of clientele politics that dominates both the state’s capitol and municipalities.

“Backroom Deals” Surround N.J. Parole Board Appointments

Senator Lesniak gave an interview on Tuesday with NJTV News, where he gave a more detailed explanation, in which he heavily criticized the current structure of the parole board.

“First of all, it’s a dumping ground for political patronage,” Senator Lesniak said of the current composition of the parole board’s membership. 

The 12-member board – which has responsibilities regarding the oversight of prisoner release and reentry – currently sees its membership appointed by the governor, with the state senate having consent via the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Lesniak is a sits on.

But during the process of deciding just who will be appointed or confirmed to the lucrative public positions can often lead to backroom deals, according to the senator.

Freeholder Kelly’s nomination to the parole board became controversial due to his lack of qualifications for the position – which calls for a college degree and a background in law or criminal justice – of which Kelly had none of the above.

Reflecting on Mr. Kelly’s defeat, Lesniak said that the Ocean County freeholder is “The poster child of what happens with these types of appointments.”

Lesniak also opposed Kelly’s second nomination to the board after an unsuccessful first try by Governor Christie, and also pointed to Jack Kelly’s role in the controversy surrounding the freeholder’s lack of willingness to allow Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Laurel Hester to share her pension with her same-sex partner.

Will Taxpayers Save With Less Cronies On The Public Dole?

Senator Lesniak proposes to scrap the current board entirely and replace the political appointees with retired judges, whose appointments can be just as political, but in this case would cost less. “My proposal will save millions of dollars – tens of millions of dollars,” Lesniak told reporters this week. The state senator proposes eliminating the current parole board, and replace the political appointees with retired state judges – who are already collecting their pensions – to serve in the role previously occupied by parole board members under Lesniak’s plan.

Retired judges would only be paid $300 per day under the program, a far cry from the six figure salaries currently paid to current parole board members, including additional perks like usage of state-owned vehicles.

Not factoring in the cost of pensions or health benefits, Lesniak’s plan is predicted to save at least $1.2 million annually in salaries alone for state taxpayers, according to the NJTV report. The senator’s proposal has gotten a lukewarm reception, even from his fellow Democrats, and Republican legislators are not likely be getting behind Lesniak’s plan anytime soon, either.

“No one wants to do away with this system because these are political appointees,” said Lesniak. “They’re your buddies, these are the people who supported you in campaigns.”

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