Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, a seasoned official with 13 years of legislative service under his belt, will triple his taxpayer-funded income this year with a second public job.
Burzichelli, who is paid $49,000 as an assemblyman, a part-time job, will earn $100,000 as director of project management with the Gloucester County Improvement Authority, a job for which he was hired last month, officials said.
Hires of this sort are lawful, but have drawn criticism from state government-ethics advocates.
State law has barred officials from holding dual elected offices since 2008, but many hold nonelected public jobs, which some ethics advocates say creates conflicts and opportunities for patronage.
"This is a really big problem in New Jersey," said Bill Schluter, a former state senator and vice chairman of the state Ethics Commission. "Some of these things might be legal, but they're very, very much unethical."
Schluter said the Legislature lacks the will to pass more stringent rules governing itself.
Burzichelli (D., Gloucester) is not the only one accepting such a job recently. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D., Union) was hired last week as deputy director and project manager of the Union County Improvement Authority. Her salary is $90,000, according to an authority resolution.
"It clearly, in today's environment, creates questions in the mind of the public about the ethics of elected officials," said Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University. But "there are no prohibitions" against such appointed positions, Pfeiffer said. "Clearly legislators have skills that can assist government agencies," he added.
The Gloucester County Improvement Authority facilitates public development projects, including the building of the Port of Paulsboro on the Delaware River, an effort Burzichelli has long supported for his hometown.
Though he began working for the authority Jan. 20, the hiring decision was widely reported only last week, in a South Jersey Times story.
Burzichelli said "the law gives clear guidance" about what is acceptable and what is not.
"People's perceptions will be whatever perceptions they choose to engage in," he said. "Everybody works somewhere, everyone has interests somewhere, and again, that's what happens - that's a trade-off of having a citizens' legislature."
Burzichelli said he consulted ethics lawyers for the Legislature before accepting the job and was given clearance. He says he plans to seek legal help if any conflicts arise.
Debra Sellitto, a spokeswoman for Gloucester County and the authority, said the job of director of project management was created when the agency's director for port development left, and "a re-shifting of assignments" occurred. The port development job carried a salary of $175,000.
The agency advertised the job from Dec. 18 to Jan. 6 on the county's website, Sellitto said.
Three others applied for the position - which includes supervising several project managers, attending construction meetings, documenting on-site project progress, and other duties. Sellitto, who called Burzichelli's credentials "exemplary," said the GCIA does not release the names of unsuccessful candidates.
"I'm very comfortable the experiences that I have been associated with over the years will allow me to function well in this position," Burzichelli said.
A 1972 Paulsboro High School graduate, Burzichelli said he worked in the late 1980s as an expediter for a construction company that developed townhouses in the area. He also worked as a project manager for Gloucester County's economic development office from 1989 to 1991, according to his resumé, provided by the GCIA.
Burzichelli is a managing partner of the Broad Street Development Group, which includes the Hill Theatre Studio in Paulsboro. The facility - in a converted movie theater - offers studio space and other services.
Burzichelli was Paulsboro's mayor from 1996 to 2011. In 2002, he was elected to the Assembly, where he is also deputy speaker.
For several years after the practice was barred, Burzichelli continued to hold the local and state seats, because he was among those grandfathered in.
Burzichelli said that his experience with budgets and contracts lent itself to his new job and that he would be able to handle his many responsibilities.
"My day has never been getting up in the morning and looking for something to do," he said.
Burzichelli's new salary will also likely boost his pension. A state Treasury Department spokesman said Burzichelli's Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) account would reflect his salary at the authority. The state's allowance formula weighs the highest salary years.
"I have not really sat down to clarify how the time accumulates at this point," Burzichelli said.
He said he interviewed for the job in an approximately one-hour meeting with Chad Bruner, county administrator, and the GCIA's acting executive director, George Strachan.
Strachan and Bruner have contributed to the Gloucester County Democratic Executive Committee.
Strachan and Burzichelli acknowledged knowing one another before the interview, but said they did not maintain a social relationship.
Burzichelli said his two decades in public service afford him name recognition, for better or worse.
"You shouldn't be barred from making a living simply because you've been elected to the Legislature," he said. "My resumé and my credentials are what they are. I participated in the process that others engaged in as well."
Strachan said Burzichelli was "clearly the most qualified person that I had talked to."
"We're happy to have him," he said.