NJ Appeals Court Rules Wildwood Police Officer Can’t Serve Double Duty as Mayor

PoliceCarWhile many New Jersey police officers work extra hours, holding elected office is not a permissible second job. In Adair v. Wildwood, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently ruled that Wildwood police officer Gary DeMarzo could not also serve as the city’s mayor.

The Facts of the Case

DeMarzo was first elected city commissioner in 2007 while on a leave of absence from the police force. Following the election, Wildwood sued to compel DeMarzo to choose which position he would keep. In that case, the Appellate Division ruled that the doctrine of incompatibility prohibited DeMarzo from holding the two positions simultaneously. The court relied on the precedent established in Jones v. MacDonald, 33 N.J. 132, 135 (1960), in which the state Supreme Court held that “public policy demands that an office holder discharge his duties with undivided loyalty.”

While an appeal of the decision was pending, DeMarzo became the mayor of Wildwood. In an attempt to remedy the conflict of interest, DeMarzo requested to be placed on a “voluntary layoff” program from the police department. Richard Adair, a Wildwood resident, a taxpayer, and a lieutenant in the Wildwood Police Department, subsequently filed suit seeking to enforce the Appellate Division’s order that DeMarzo choose between the two positions.

The trial court concluded that DeMarzo’s layoff plan did not comply with the Appellate Division’s prior order and restrained him from taking any actions as mayor or police officer until he had chosen one of the two positions. “The Appellate Division viewed DeMarzo’s incompatible dual office holding as being contrary to the public’s interest. Every day that goes by without this situation being completely cured is contrary to the public interest and is a continuing violation of the Appellate Division’s order,” the court explained.

The Court’s Decision

The Appellate Division confirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that DeMarzo’s layoff plan did not remove the conflict of interest.

As highlighted in the opinion, “Such an arrangement continues the incompatibility that led to our order in the first instance. Whether on an unpaid leave of absence or as first-in-line on the special reemployment list, DeMarzo’s persistent involvement with the police force continued to deprive the citizens of Wildwood of ‘an independent City Commissioner capable of managing the municipality’s business unfettered by personal conflicts . . . .’”

For more information about this case or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.

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