Montgomery to discuss police leadership

Closed door talks ready to begin on future of department

By:David Dankwa
   MONTGOMERY — With less than four months remaining until former Police Chief William Beachell’s official retirement on Sept. 1, the Township Committee will begin meeting this week to discuss whether it wants to hire a police chief or a public safety director, from within or outside the department, along with the promotional process within the department.
   Mayor Don Matthews said the committee will go behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss the personnel issue.
   “Its time to start talking about what to do next,” he said.
   The township lost its police chief in July amid allegations of sexual harassment on the part of Chief Beachell from two female co-workers. Chief Beachell took a leave of absence then and subsequently resigned in the fall, after signing an agreement to retire Sept. 1, and in return, receive all his pension benefits.
   In March, the Township Committee appointed Township Administrator Donato Nieman to head the department, as public safety director, after eight months of oversight by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. Lt. Gregory Harkins has been working as officer-in-charge, with the department’s other lieutenant, Robert Palmer, expected to rotate with him.
   Mayor Matthews said the rank and file of the department has continued to demonstrate exceptional leadership throughout the transition.
   “I’ve heard nothing but positive things about them,” said the mayor.
   He and Committeewoman Ali Henkel say they would like a police chief hired from within the department.
   “It’d be terrific to have someone in place before Beachell’s retirement,” said Ms. Henkel. “I hope we promote someone from within. Our officers have demonstrated they are capable of leading.”
   The mayor and Ms. Henkel said the committee will be considering, among other issues:
   • the advantages and disadvantages of a police chief, who could come from within or outside the department, and a public safety director, who must be hired from outside the department;
   • whether to appoint a police chief from within the department, if it decides to hire a chief;
   • whether the internal pool of candidates for chief should be open to sergeants or just the lieutenants; and
   • whether to hire a search consultant.
   “I think what we want to do is go about it in a methodical way,” Mayor Matthews said. “We don’t want to rush into anything.”
   Committeeman Jim Irish said he, too, thinks the Police Department is working just fine, but he hasn’t made a decision if the township should hire a police chief or continue to maintain the public safety director position.
   “I’m not prepared to commit one way or the other,” he said. “I think it’s a little too premature to say. There are philosophical issues we have to discuss.”
   Ms. Henkel said a police chief is the best option.
   “I think the public safety director is too much of a political job,” she said. “And I don’t think it gives enough stability to the department.”
   Committee members Peter Treichler and Sondra Moylan could not be reached for comment Monday.