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N.J. County Officials Will Lose Seat If They Skip Meetings

A proposed law would require elected county commissioners to be replaced if they fail to attend three consecutive meetings without “good cause.” The rule mirrors an existing law for local school boards.

Elected county commissioners in New Jersey would risk being replaced if they fail to attend three consecutive meetings without “good cause” under a proposed law aimed at holding politicians more accountable.

The legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Michael Inganamort, R- Morris, would give county commissioner boards statewide the ability to remove a member by majority vote if the commissioner is absent from three consecutive meetings without a legally sufficient reason.

Inganamort, who also represents parts of Sussex and Warren counties, said the absence of one Sussex County commissioner in particular from recent meetings “is troubling.”

The assemblyman did not provide a name.

But Sussex County Commissioner William Hayden, a Republican, has been criticized for missing several meetings following allegations earlier this year that he lied at political gatherings when he spoke about serving as a Navy SEAL.

Hayden did not immediately respond to requests to comment.

He previously declined to comment on the Navy SEAL allegations and referred questions to his attorney, who said the county commissioner never claimed in campaign literature, advertisements, biographies, websites, social media or public statements to have served in the military.

The bill that would allow county commissioners to remove members (A4102) mirrors an existing state law for local school boards. That law says any board member who “fails to attend three consecutive meetings of the board without good cause may be removed by it.”

If Inganamort’s proposal becomes law, it would be up to county commissioners to decide “whether, when, and how to use” their ability to remove members who miss meetings.

It would need to be passed by both houses of the state Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — and signed by the governor to become law.

“Commissioners are paid to do a job. Chronic absence is both an abuse of the position and unfair to the other commissioners on a board who have to pick up the slack,” said Inganamort, who resigned last year as mayor of Chester Township in Morris County to become a state legislator.

“County governments have a lot on their plate from roads and bridges to county colleges and human services. The chronic absence of one Sussex County commissioner is troubling, but this bill would apply equally to all 21 counties,” Inganamort said.

Hayden is the only member of the five-person county board in Sussex County who has been absent for more than one meeting in recent months. Hayden has missed three of the 10 board meetings held so far this year, officials said.

The Sussex County Board of Commissioners meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. The job is considered part-time but it’s not unusual for commissioners to spend “between 30 and 40 hours a week on activities related to the part-time position,” according to the Sussex County government website.

Commissioners in Sussex County are paid an annual salary of nearly $24,000, according to public records.

Earlier this spring, Hayden came under fire by party leaders for allegedly lying about serving as a Navy SEAL.

In February, the Sussex County Republican Committee released a statement claiming Hayden told the leadership team and members of the public he had combat experience as a Navy SEAL.

“Hayden has not been forthright regarding his military service,” the committee said.

Robert Kovic, Hayden’s attorney, said he directed his client to remain silent “until the probable crimes against him can be investigated and determined.”

Hayden is the former president of the Skylands Tea Party and was elected to the Sussex County Board of Commissioners in 2022.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy told NJ Advance Media the military would need Hayden’s alleged service dates to confirm or deny he ever served. The military’s database shows two people who served with the name William J. Hayden, but neither record indicates service as a SEAL.

Hayden is also employed by the state Department of Transportation. He is listed as a “non-veteran” in the public employee’s retirement system.

The Sussex County Republican Committee said Hayden spoke to party leaders, to volunteers and at public meetings about his combat experience.

“Hayden’s betrayal of friends, supporters, voters and the county is clearly evident at this point. If there is one honorable thing left for him to do, it is to resign and cease disgracing the office of County Commissioner,” the group said in a Facebook post.

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy and U.S. Rep. Andy Kim joined the calls for Hayden to resign earlier this year as they ran for U.S. Senate.

In March, Hayden filed a notice that he intended to sue fellow commissioners and state lawmakers over their alleged efforts to push him out of office, the New Jersey Herald reported.

Hayden alleged other lawmakers were “slandering, libeling, harassing, distressing, embarrassing, annoying, alarming, threatening and preventing him from engaging in his elected position.”

A tort notice must be filed six months before a complainant can bring a lawsuit.

Jill Space, director of Sussex County Board of Commissioners, alleged Hayden struggles with being truthful.

“It remains Commissioner Hayden’s burden to prove his legal claims as much as it remains his burden to dispel the rumors regarding his military service. His history is an indication he won’t. On the other hand, the rest of the board will continue the good work for which we were elected to do,” Space said.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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