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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A spokesman for longtime Mayor James Cahill confirmed for the first time last week that the mayor has been collecting a $99,735 annual pension since 2011.
In an unusual arrangement that would be illegal under today’s laws, Cahill retired from a six-figure job with the county government on January 1, 2011, and promptly began collecting his pension while continuing to draw a salary from the city government he leads.
Cahill was first elected in 1990 and has not yet announced whether he will run for an unprecedented seventh term next year.
For much of his twenty-three years in office, Cahill has served more than one master: operating a private law practice in the city, and working at the lucrative county government job that paid him more than three times his mayor’s salary.
According to a spokesman for the NJ Division of Pensions and Benefits, at the time Cahill retired, members of the Public Employee Retirement System were allowed “to retire and collect their pension while holding elected office provided that their pension was not solely based on that elective office.”
Just six months after Cahill’s semi-retirement, legislators changed state law to prevent elected officials in the future from cashing in on their public pensions while still serving in office.
William Quinn of the Division of Pensions and Benefits said that the particular law that allowed for the mayor’s early retirement (N.J.S.A. 43:15A-47.2) was repealed by “Chapter 78 reforms” enacted in June 2011, less than six months after Cahill began collecting his pension.
Cahill began accumulating pension benefits when he started his first job with Middlesex County on November 18, 1974. In 1980, he took an assistant city attorney job with the City of New Brunswick, a position he held until he was elected mayor ten years later.
Quinn said that Cahill’s pension is based on two major factors: his length of time in public service (just over 36 years) and the average income he earned in his three highest-paid years in the pension system.
In 2004, Cahill started working as an attorney for a little-known agency with a large budget: the Middlesex County Joint Health Insurance Fund, which administers the healthcare benefits provided to county employees. By the end of his career at that agency, he was making an annual salary of $134,084 on top of his mayor’s salary.
Quinn said Cahill’s “final average salary” of $171,777, “was based on both his $40,000 salary as mayor and his average compensation of $131,777 for the years 2008 through 2010 when he worked as the attorney for the county’s Joint Health Insurance Fund.”
Though Cahill earns just $40,000 a year in the part-time role, he supervises a Mayor’s Office that consists of several full-time staff members whose salaries and wages totaled $351,785 in the most recent city budget.
Among the full-time employees in the Mayor’s Office is Russell Marchetta, Cahill’s spokesman since 2011.
At the September 18 City Council meeting, after New Brunswick Today pressed for a confirmation of the pension, Council President Rebecca Escobar referred the question to Marchetta. Cahill does not attend the City Council meetings.
“You saw it online, yes. It’s public knowledge, that’s his pension,” responded Marchetta, who had previously ignored or dismissed inquiries about the mayor’s second job.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.