Citing eminent-domain conflict, report urges ban on dual-office legislators: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 6/16/06

16% of lawmakers hold 2nd elected title

By Gregory J Volpe

[New Jersey] State legislators should not be allowed to hold another elected position because it causes conflicts between state and local interests and creates entrenched politicians, concludes a report on dual office holding released Thursday.

One example is lawmakers' attempt to curb local governments' use of eminent domain for private redevelopment projects.

"You're essentially asking 20 percent of the Legislature to curtail their powers as local officials," said Assemblyman Michael Panter Jr., D-Monmouth, who wants to ban dual office holding.

Of the two lawmakers who sponsored eminent domain measures and head key committees that grapple with the issue, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, is mayor of Paulsboro, and Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, is a former Newark councilman. And four of the 12 legislators on the two committees considering eminent domain reform are mayors.

Panter said Burzichelli "has allowed input from everyone" in crafting his eminent domain bill, "so I don't think, in John's case, (holding a dual office) been an issue."

Burzichelli said his measure would make it tougher and more expensive for towns to use eminent domain for private purposes.

Sen. Leonard T. Connors, R-Ocean, who is also Surf City mayor, said the proposed legislation could be an argument against dual office holding — except he opposes the ban.

"Eminent domain should be used just for public use and not for broader perspective," said Connors, who defends holding two offices because he says his local experience gives him greater expertise, and voters can choose not to re-elect those holding dual offices.

Tom O'Neil, the report's author, said eminent domain "is affected by dual office holding."

"It certainly makes the conflict of obligation on the elected local official serving as a legislator more apparent," O'Neil said.

His report also said holding two offices gives a greater re-election advantage, blurs the system of checks and balances, boosts politicians' pensions, amplifies "pork spending" and blocks others from serving in politics.

According to the report, 16 percent of New Jersey legislators hold another elected office. That doesn't include those who hold appointed government positions, which will be the subject of a subsequent report.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com