Just weeks into his new job, Burlington County Clerk Tim Tyler already is drawing criticism from fellow Democrats.
He is the first member of his party to hold the position in 40 years, after Democrats made sweeping election gains in November in a county government traditionally run by Republicans.
At issue is Tyler's recent swearing-in of Wade Hale as deputy clerk. Hale is a Republican who served as acting clerk last year and has worked in the office since 2000.
"Not only was a Republican given the job over other Democrats, but Tyler broke his own campaign promise by not lowering the position's salary by 10 percent, as he promised during the campaign," county Democratic Committee Chairman Rick Perr wrote to party members in a recent e-mail.
He concluded: "It is a sad day for Democrats."
The party's candidates ran on a platform of affordability, accessibility, and accountability, promising change from a Republican administration they accused of being corrupt and wasteful. Mary Anne Reinhart and Chris Brown this year became the first Democrats in a quarter-century to sit on the five-member Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Without a majority on the board, the Democratic freeholders have less opportunity than Tyler does to enact change right away. The former Fieldsboro councilman has the direct authority to fill three positions, including that of the $80,000-a-year deputy clerk job.
Tyler said he kept on another Republican as a confidential aide but hired a Democrat for the third position. He explained that he was evaluating the clerk's office before making sweeping changes in his five-year term.
"Can I say all staffing decisions have been made? No," he said. "We're just of a different philosophy. I guess right now I don't think it's necessary to just come in and basically do away with everyone without at least assessing their strengths, what they bring to the table."
He said he planned to fulfill his campaign promises. In the meantime, he's been welcomed by county employees and is already working to improve services, Tyler said.
Hale said it wouldn't make sense for him to comment, "because we're in a position here where Clerk Tyler is actually trying to put partisan politics aside, and he's doing that for the good of the residents."
As deputy clerk in 2007, Hale won an award for outstanding service from the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey. He is also chairman of both the Springfield Township Republican Committee and a political action committee tied to local GOP causes.
Perr said it was disappointing to see someone break a campaign promise right after taking office.
"You can't sell to the public that you're going to make change and then get in and keep the same people in there that are all part of the same problem that caused the voters to want to throw them out in the first place. . . . I think that the public wants Democrats to get in there and clean house," Perr said.
The new clerk is being snubbed by the party in other ways, according to Tyler and others.
Last month, the party sent out a notice that it would hold a fund-raiser at Cafe Madison in Riverside. There would be two hours of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres to "honor our successful candidates in 2008, particularly Freeholders Chris Brown and Mary Anne Reinhart."
The notice said tickets were complimentary for elected officials and municipal party chairs, but asked for donations of $100 from county committee members and $250 from all others. Tyler attended with his father, Edward "Buddy" Tyler, the Fieldsboro mayor and chairman of the borough's Democratic committee.
Both men say Edward Tyler was admitted free, but his son was initially denied access at the door and asked to pay $250. After a heated discussion between the younger Tyler and a party official, Edward Tyler eventually paid $100 on his son's behalf, the Tylers said.
"It was pretty obvious I was not welcome," Tim Tyler said.
Asked why his son was being shut out by Democrats, Edward Tyler said: "Personally, I believe it's because he wouldn't be a good little boy and do what he was told."
Perr said he didn't know specifically about any such incident.
"I can only tell you about [our] general policy," he said. "We ask our elected officials to raise money and contribute."