Assemblyman to serve as volunteer director

Mayor names Barnes to public safety post on temporary basis


Staff Writer

State Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes Jr. will serve as the East Brunswick’s acting director of public safety.

Barnes, who served in the same role in 1997, was named to the position Monday by Mayor William Neary. He will volunteer his services without compensation.

On Feb. 1, Barnes will replace current Director Thomas W. Finn, who served in the role for about six years. Finn was told last month that he could keep his position as deputy police chief but would have to give up his role as director. He decided instead to retire from both positions, effective Jan. 31.

Finn said he did not want to remain deputy chief and have to work under a civilian public safety director after years of holding the position himself. Finn earned $120,000 a year as deputy chief and received a $15,000 stipend as director.

Barnes will not be paid for the work, Neary said in a statement released Monday. The mayor was not sure when a permanent director would be hired.

Neary said Barnes will help him choose a permanent replacement for Finn.

“Assemblyman Barnes will evaluate police staffing levels, the police promotional process, and assist in the recruitment and selection of Director Tom Finn’s replacement,” Neary said in a press statement.

Neary said he did not see a conflict in appointing a fellow Democrat serving the area that includes East Brunswick.

Neary has not stated why he sought to do away with Finn as director, but the two had clashed over budgetary issues involving the number of police officers and vehicles. Last year, while police contracts were in arbitration, some officers expressed support for Neary’s challenger in the race for mayor.

Neary said he is honored that Barnes has accepted the position, and said Barnes is equally pleased.

“I really think he’s happy to serve the residents,” Neary said.

Barnes, a former FBI agent, has a varied background in law enforcement.

Barnes said that since East Brunswick is part of his district he felt an obligation to take the job.

“I felt an obligation to respond to the mayor’s request,” he said.

His mandate, he said, is to help find another public safety director and possibly a deputy chief, to assess police staffing levels and evaluate promotions.

An Edison resident, he said he gotten to know most members of the East Brunswick department due to his service as public safety director in 1997, and he has maintained contact with many officers by going to numerous police-related functions.

Barnes said he saw a lot of other departments when he worked with the FBI and that East Brunswick’s compares favorably.

“East Brunswick was always an outstanding department,” he said. “They had very well-trained, experienced and interested police.”

He said he is not sure how long he will serve in the position.

“I suspect until I make all recommendations as far as director, as well as other recommendations,” he said.

Neary said he and Barnes met when Barnes was director of security for the New Jersey Devils.

“The first time I met him, he had the Stanley Cup in the back of his trunk,” Neary said.

Barnes collects a pension from the FBI and gets a salary as an assemblyman, Neary said.

“Assemblyman Barnes is no stranger to the residents of East Brunswick or the East Brunswick Public Safety Department, having served as the unpaid director in 1997 at the beginning of my first term in office,” Neary said in the statement.

Neary will consult with Barnes in determining a permanent replacement for Finn.

While Barnes will evaluate staffing levels, Neary would not comment on whether staffing cuts are a possibility.

He said however that it is possible the township will not hire a new deputy chief.

Neary noted how the positions of deputy chief and public safety director used to be held by different individuals, each of whom made about $100,000 a year. He said it was Barnes’ idea to consolidate the spots in the late 1990s. John Soke was the first person to hold both positions. When he retired, Neary appointed Finn from within the department.

Neary reiterated that he did not want to go into the reasons why he would not reappoint Finn, who is one of several people retiring from the department this year.

Issues such as a traffic ticket given to him last year and the budget disagreements that have been publicized, he said, had nothing to with the decisions regarding Finn.