A report released today by Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh finds that Rockaway Township has been plagued by poor money management in its local government, with millions of dollars unnecessarily going towards prescription benefits and vacation leave.
According to the report, the Morris County township of 25,000 could have saved $4.5 million between 2019 and 2021, primarily by eliminating duplicate prescription benefits. The township has also accrued $4 million in financial liabilities thanks largely to the accumulation of unused vacation time, the report says.
“Our audit shows multiple failings by Rockaway Township, from unlawful policies and contracts to just staggering, inexcusable waste,” Walsh said in a statement. “For many years, Rockaway Township leaders failed to protect public funds.”
The report additionally hits the town for failing to listen to its own independent auditors, who said in both 2020 and 2021 that the town needed to review its policies and make sure they were in keeping with state law.
“Two years in a row, the township’s independent auditor made recommendations that were intended to protect taxpayers,” Walsh said. “The auditors were right. There was a real problem here.”
The report comes at an inconvenient time for Mayor Joe Jackson, who was appointed in February 2022 and is now running for a full term.
In next month’s Republican primary, Jackson will face Tucker Kelley, a former township councilman whom he previously defeated 60%-38% in the 2022 special election primary. This year, Kelley is running on the “Regular Republican Party” slate alongside a number of other off-the-line Morris GOP candidates.
Kelley issued a statement in response to the comptroller’s report.
“The waste and corruption in Mayor Jackson’s administration is troubling, and this report solidifies the fact that Rockaway Township residents are over-taxed,” Kelley said. “I look forward to providing an alternative at the ballot box to Mayor Jackson’s record of alarming illegal actions and wasteful spending, and ask Rockaway Township residents to vote for me to change the leadership of our town.”
Whoever wins the primary will face Democratic Councilman Manny Friedlander in November. Jackson only beat Councilman Jonathan Sackett 53%-47% in last year’s general election, so Friedlander has a path to victory in the historically Republican town.
This story was updated at 1:12 PM with comment from Kelley.