Monday, January 23, 2017

After a three and a half year investigation, Local Finance Board says that Commercial's and Lawrence's attempt to keep their municipal lawyer in the pension system was not unethical.

Lawrence Mayor Miletta
On December 14, 2016, the Local Finance Board (LFB) finally resolved Complaint No. 13-013, which I had filed in April 2013.  I had complained that the members of the Lawrence and Commercial Township Committees (both in Cumberland County) had in 2008 created new positions for Thomas E. Seeley, who served as Township Solicitor for both townships. I alleged that those positions were designed to keep Seeley in the state's pension system despite a 2007 law that specifically sought to exclude professional services contractors, such as municipal lawyers, architects and engineers from being in the pension system.

My complaint found support in two documents.  First was an August 23, 2010 letter written to Seeley by Hank Schwedes, Supervising Pensions and Benefits Specialist from the Division of Pensions and Benefits.  Regarding Lawrence Township's appointment of Seeley to the position of "Property Administrator," Schwedes wrote that "the Division concludes that the position of 'Property Administrator' is a position designed to disguise [Seeley's] true relationship, thereby facilitating [Seeley's] continued membership in the PERS."  Schwede's letter concluded with an administrative determination that retroactively removed the pension credits Seeley had received by virtue of the new positions created by both townships.

Second, I presented the LFB with the Commercial Township Committee's August 21, 2008 meeting minutes in which former Township Administrator Judson Moore candidly admitted that the "Property Manager" position was being awarded to Mr. Seeley in direct response to the legislation to ensure that Mr. Seeley remained enrolled in the pension system. ("Mr. Moore said part of it is due to new ordinance mandated by the state Determining Positions Eligible for the Defined Contribution Retirement Program. This is a new form of pension plan for certain municipal employees. Solicitors cannot be paid 'other expenses' and a salary, it either has to be by salary or by other expenses. What this does is take his salary and other expenses figures which were already allocated in the budget and placing it under one category, which is his salary for pension purposes.")

In its December 14, 2016 Notice of Dismissal, Local Finance Board Chairman Timothy J. Cunningham dismissed the complaint against Commercial Township Committee members George W. Garrison, Fletcher Jamison and William Riggin; Lawrence Township Committee members Thomas Sheppard, Elmer Bowman, and Joseph Miletta.  Cunningham's letter also dismissed the complaint against Moore and Seeley even though I had not named them in my complaint.

Cunningham's letter noted that the Pension Division's review had discovered that "Seeley was not entitled to to membership in the [pension system]."  Once discovered, Seeley's "service time was reset."  Cunningham's letter held that the fact that Seeley "did not in fact collect any benefits from the retirement system" precluded a finding that anyone had done anything unethical.

I have written before about Seeley and Moore.  On September 10, 2012 I wrote "Township defends its tax-challenged municipal attorney" about the Internal Revenue Service having served notices of levy seizing the money that Lawrence Township owed Mr. Seeley for his legal services in order to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal tax liens docketed against him.  On September 25, 2016, I wrote "Released documents claim that former Commercial Township Mayor used racial slur against fellow Township Committee member" about documents received in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit filed against the Township to discover the real reason that Moore had abruptly resigned as Commercial Township Mayor.