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Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung. (Photo: Facebook.)

Chung drops out of Assembly race in 37th district

Palisades Park mayor says he must focus on response to State Comptroller report

By David Wildstein, March 09 2021 6:26 pm

Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung is dropping out of the race for the Democratic Assembly nomination in the 37th district after some party leaders became concerned that allegation of financial mismanagement by the borough could be a drain on the ticket.

A State Comptroller’s Office investigation found that Palisades Park officials failed to follow a state law that capped sick leave payouts for municipal employees.

“In light of this new information, I cannot in good conscious leave the Borough of Palisades Park knowing how much work is still left to be done,” Chung said.  “Serving as Mayor is the greatest honor of my life and my community must know that I am 100% focused on reforming our local government and completing the job they elected me to do. For

Chung’s withdrawal leaves Bergen County Democrats without a second Assembly candidate to run on the organization line headed by Gov. Phil Murphy and State Senate candidate Gordon Johnson, although party leaders are likely to find a way to replace Chung before the April filing deadline.

The other organization Assembly candidate, Teaneck Democratic Municipal Chair Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, has faced criticism that she called for a boycott of Jewish businesses at a rally last July.

Bergen Democrats are discussing possible options for both seats, although that doesn’t mean they will replace both candidates.    A party credentials committee meeting to discuss the 37th district has been pushed until tomorrow.

Teaneck Councilwoman Gervonn Romney Rice and Tenafly Councilwoman Lauren Kohn Dayton are seeking the Democratic nomination for State Assembly.  They will be bracketed with Valerie Vainieri Huttle, who is challenging Johnson off the line in the Democratic Senate primary.

Possible replacement candidates for Chung include Fort Lee Councilman Peter Suh, Palisades Park Councilman Chung Paul Kim, and former Englewood Cliffs Councilwoman Gloria Oh.

Chung was poised to become the first Korean American from Bergen County to serve in the State Assembly.

The State Comptroller found that Palisades Park reimbursed some employees for personal expenses and allowed contracts and employee perks that exceeded state guidelines.  The also found instances of wasteful spending, including $120,000 on gasoline charges after the borough administrator issued fuel cards to some employees and did no track the expenditures.

“The Borough’s failure to adopt and implement internal controls to protect Borough funds has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of improper, fiscally irresponsible, or otherwise questionable payouts for the years reviewed,” the report said.

Chung said he reviewed the report and was “deeply troubled by its findings.”

“Although there are several inaccuracies in the report, it is indisputable that the system of safeguards that should have been in place either failed or were circumvented,” Chung said. “I was not Mayor at the time these policies were enacted, or events transpired. In fact, several of the practices go as far back as 1999, but it is my responsibility to now restore Palisades Park’s trust in their local government.”

In response, Chung plans to appoint a committee “charged with formulating a corrective action plan to remedy deficiencies in our system of checks and balances and ensure full compliance with State requirements.”

In response, Chung plans to appoint a committee “charged with formulating a corrective action plan to remedy deficiencies in our system of checks and balances and ensure full compliance with State requirements.”

Chung also said he was implementing a plan to address some of the issues:  a freeze on all gas allowances and reimbursements, except for municipal vehicles used exclusively for municipal purposes; new restrictive oversight an accountability policies; revisions of employment contracts to make them consistent with state laws;  the immediate termination of employee reimbursement practices that will permit only direct payments to vendors unless pre-approved by the borough administrator; a freeze on all sick leave payouts until new employment contracts are completed; and a reorganization of the Finance Department that will include personnel changes.

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