Democrats in Toms River are calling the hiring of a Lacey Township Republican committee member to a town hall job a “blatantly obvious patronage” appointment.
The township council’s Republican majority hired Mark Dykoff, 58, as its new council secretary, a job post that officials say will soon receive a new title. Laurie Huryk, one of two Democratic members of the Toms River council, said in an e-mail that the council secretary job was never publicly advertised and no other candidates were interviewed for the position. She also said she and Councilman Terrance Turnbach, a fellow Democrat, heard about the appointment just five hours before a council meeting last week and tried to stop it.
“All previous discussions indicated that this position was being considered for elimination in order to cut costs for the taxpayers of Toms River,” said Huryk and Turnbach in a joint statement. “Suddenly we’re being asked to vote to give a secretarial position to an individual who is not qualified for secretarial work, at more than a 20 percent increase over the previous employee’s salary.”
Dykoff was elected to a seat on the Lacey Township Committee in November. He previously served as a committeeman there as well as the township’s mayor, which in Lacey is a largely ceremonial post chosen from the committee. He generated controversy in 2014 after he was served a summons for allegedly punching another committeeman, Dave Most, at a Republican Club picnic. The charges were dismissed after Dykoff apologized to Most over the dispute, which apparently centered on a school board endorsement.
Dykoff, in his Toms River position, will earn a salary of $63,000 annually, however Huryk said she and Turnbach were able to intervene with regard to the appointment, leading to a 90 day-long probationary period under which Dykoff will be paid the equivalent of $58,000. The previous employee who occupied the post was paid $55,000 annually.
Dykoff was previously employed by the state Motor Vehicle Commission. Sources said he was recently let go along with a number of other Republican appointees left over from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. He earned $74,830 at the MVC job.
Dykoff was appointed at the Jan. 3 reorganizational meeting of the township council. His name appeared on the agenda for the business portion of the regular meeting, however the governing body met in a closed session where the hiring was discussed. When the council returned and announced that the probational period with the lower temporary salary was announced.
Turnbach asked for a vote on the hiring to be put off.
“I’ve asked certain questions, and nobody here has done the due diligence that we are obligated to do,” he explained. “I mean to disrespect to Mr. Dykoff, but I have a job to do. I took an oath of office to do it, and I can’t do it in this five hour period.”
He and Huryk both voted against the hiring, though acknowledging that Democrats were outnumbered on the board, suggested the position’s title be altered and a formal list of job duties be promulgated.
“I understand that the process might not have been perfect,” said Council President George Wittmann. “I apoligize for that, if it wasn’t as smooth as you would have liked.”
Wittmann said Turbach and Huryk would both serve on an administrative committee that would formalize a job description, and added that some confusion may have been caused because in the past there had not been a written description of the council secretary’s duties.
“I can assure you that in the next three to four weeks, we’re going to have a job description that is rock solid,” Wittmann said.
“Our loyalties on the township council must be to the township residents we have been elected to represent and serve, not to county Republican leaders or club members,” said Turnbach. “Respectfully, the Republican majority of the township council failed the township residents tonight, pushing through a patronage appointment without any fair, honest and open hiring process.”
Huryk and Turnbach centered a portion of their campaign for council in 2017 on eliminating patronage appointments. They were elected alongside Councilman Daniel Rodrick, leaving the GOP a thin majority, however Rodrick switched parties last year, citing cuts to school funding and other policies promoted by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and some lawmakers.
“Councilwoman Huryk and I will continue to fight against wasteful spending in government and continue to make sure our residents stay informed on these issues,” Turnbach said.