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DV Pilot police & fire

State police chief’s group meets against Teaneck public safety proposal

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Denied the opportunity to address the Teaneck council, the state Association of Chiefs of Police is conducting its own meeting in town tonight to discuss the hiring of retired Police Chief Robert Wilson to a civilian public safety director‘s post.

GOOGLEMAPS photo

A large contingent from the Teaneck PBA, along with residents who’ve become disenchanted with the situation, is expected to descend on the Richard Rodda Center, near Votee Park, for the 7 p.m. session.

Many also plan to attend tomorrow night’s council meeting, where a vote is scheduled to reorganize the police and fire departments.

After Gov. Chris Christie vowed to limit payments for unused sick days and vacation days for public workers, hundreds of them — including Wilson — put in their retirement papers.

By law, Wilson cannot return as a civilian director for six months after his July 1 retirement date. So town officials immediately hired him to fill a vacant deputy town manager’s post under a six-month, $110,000-a-year contract, with full benefits, until he‘s eligible.

That’s $55,000 that the chief’s association said could be used to put another cop on the street.

A majority of council members said they intend to sign Wilson as public safety director, possibly in connection with a merger with neighboring Bogota’s department, at the start of 2011. That would also put him in charge of town firefighters, even though the career cop has no experience in that area.

The entire arrangment smacks of patronage, the chiefs association says.

As a result, residents will ultimately find themselves protected by a department required to follow policies and practices dictated by elected town officials with no administrative experience in police work or firefighting, an association official said.

“A civilian director does not even have the same authority as a rookie police officer,” South Brunwick Police Chief Ray Hayducka, vice-president of the NJSACP, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “They can not answer a call, have a police radio in the car, or even see a criminal investigation report.

“How do you run an agency without even having the authority of the men and woman you are supposed to be leading?” Hayducka added. “The reason they originally created the office of the chief in the first place is so decisions could be make without political reprisal.

“Almost all towns that tried this experiment have converted back to a police chief…. It smack of politics and it’s just bad public policy.”

Teaneck Councilman Elie Katz told residents that the board majority is seeking “total control” of the department by Wilson — but as director. That means he won’t be protected by civil service, leaving him beholden to the mayor and council.

Katz told CLIFFVIEW PILOT the plan to keep Wilson on the payroll, even though his state pension has kicked in, is “a real opportunity to give management better controls of the administrative functions of our police and fire department.”

“It’s something that we have not tried and can be abolished ‘at the stroke of a pen’ if we find that its not the best route to go,” said Katz, a former mayor and deputy mayor.

This is exactly the type of absolute power — with the potential for micro-managing — that the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police said could prove disastrous, given the lack of experience by most elected officials in police work.

Katz said he appreciated the chiefs association’s input, but that “it’s a greater issue then just what the PBA and chiefs want…. I have always been willing to look at different creative options and not just accept the ‘status quo’ because that’s how it has always been done in the past.”

The chief’s association is so incensed that its officials are moving to revoke Wilson’s membership, Hayducka told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“Our association is disappointed that a few members of the council will not allow us to do a public presentation during the council meeting on the benefits of having a police chief instead of a civilian public safety director,” he said. “It a disservice to the taxpayer.

“The town manager gave a 40-minute presentation on the benefits of having civilian director. One would have to question what the motive is if they will not let us do a formal presentation,” Hayduca said. “We believe we should have equal time to show what the change will be and how it impacts the township.”

The decision to go with a police director isn’t unanimous: Tonight’s meeting was made possible by Councilwoman Barbara Ley Toffler, Ph.D., who said she is “strongly opposed” to what she called a “convoluted” arrangement.

Until Wilson can legally take the job, Teaneck’s public safety director will be William Broughton, the township manager

A former police captain, Broughton also serves as Acting Town Clerk.

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