Public hearing set on police director By kathy baratta Staff Writer D
Public hearing set on police director
By kathy baratta
Despite being told by an angry resident that "it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," the Howell Township Council has introduced an ordinance that would establish the position of a police director over the town’s police chief.
A second reading and public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for March 22.
Referring to the proposed creation of the job of police director to whom the chief would report and be accountable, resident Warren Curry, of Georgia Tavern Road, told council members, "We don’t need it in this town; there’s no reason for it."
His remarks at the council’s March 8 meeting were met with applause from other residents in attendance.
Curry said it was his own experience and that of his friends and neighbors that "the chief and his department already do an excellent job; it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."
As proposed, the individual appointed as How-ell’s police director will not have to have any training, formal or otherwise, in law enforcement.
Anthony DeGenaro, of the Howell Association for Lower Taxes, asked council members why they believe a police director is necessary.
Mayor Timothy Konopka directed township attorney Richard Schibell to respond and Schibell said the reason was "multi-faceted," being both "philosophical and managerial."
Schibell said there had been a "move by Chief (Ron) Carter to set up a traffic ticket quota system." The attorney said it is his opinion that what Carter wanted to do was "unconstitutional" and would "undermine the public’s confidence in the department."
Schibell also alluded to "current deficiencies" in the existing structure of the department.
He characterized the reason that neither the Patrolmens Benevolent Association (PBA) or the Superior Officers Association (SOA) have come out against the creation of a police director to be that their members are in favor of such a measure.
Carter, who was in the audience at the meeting, told the News Transcript that as of March 7 he had received a memo from township manager Jacqueline Ascione forbidding him to comment or provide documentation to the press.
However, previous to that date Carter had spoken with the News Transcript regarding the alleged ticket quota. He claimed the issue was being created to justify the move for a police director and as a way for the council to give Ascione complete power.
According to Carter, the inclusion in the officers’ monthly personnel evaluations of the number of arrests police have made and the number of traffic tickets they have issued is and always has been department policy. He said the policy has been in place with the approval of Ascione and Howell’s former labor attorney, Petro Stawnychy of Rutherford.
Contacted by the News Transcript, Stawnychy corroborated Carter’s assertions. He said the issue of including tickets issued and arrests made in the officers’ evaluations has been an issue since it came up three years ago.
According to Stawnychy, who was Howell’s labor attorney until January, this policy had the approval of township officials.
Carter explained that as the department has "grown significantly" over the years, he was only planning to put into written form a policy that has not only been in effect for years but has the approval of the PBA and SOA.
The chief said it wasn’t until Konopka became aware of the policy that it came into question and was characterized as a quota system.
Curry also asked the council members why there is a need for a police director.
"Doesn’t Chief Carter already answer to Ms. Ascione?" he said.
Deputy Mayor George Pettignano said the chief does not report to Ascione and stated that in dealing with the township manager the chief "pulled rank."
"The only person with absolute power right now is the police chief," Pettignano said.
Ascione has previously stated that under Howell’s form of government, "the chief already answers to me." She characterized the chief’s role in the department as more of a day-to-day administrator, with the police director’s role to be that of policy maker.
Resident Michael Gros was one of two persons ejected from the council meeting when he shouted that Ascione was being given too much power.
"She already thinks she’s God," Gros said before being led out of the meeting room by a police officer.
Curry, who was not persuaded by Pettignano, termed the ordinance and the creation of the position "another created political appointment job."
Ascione has said she will serve as police director or appoint someone else to fill the position. The ordinance provides for the job to have a salary.
Ascione has said that she plans no increase in her annual $85,000 salary to remunerate her for the additional duties if she does become police director.
Schibell has referred to the job of police director as "an extension of the township manager’s duties" and said Ascione will perform the job with no salary increase "at this juncture."
Councilman Barry Segal, despite voting to introduce the ordinance, previously told the News Transcript he favors the creation of the position of a public safety officer rather than a police director. He envisions a public safety officer being someone who would coordinate all of Howell’s municipal emergency services organizations. The public safety director would not oversee the township’s fire departments and first aid squads, Segal said.
Segal said he voted to introduce the police director ordinance in order to open the matter to public debate. He has said he anticipated problems arising from the possibility of a conflict over the "interpretation of power" between the chief and a police director.
DeGenaro, in closing his remarks to the council, asked Schibell if a public referendum could be held with voters deciding whether to have a police director. Again there was applause.
DeGenaro asked Schibell to have the answer to his question by March 22, at which time the council could pass the ordinance.
Schibell said he could only do so at the behest of the council.
Konopka told DeGenaro council members will discuss his suggestion.
If the measure passes and a police director is appointed it will mean that the police chief will have to run everything by the police director, from his time cards to any departmental-personnel decisions he makes.