O’Brien unhappy with DCA report process

Your Turn

Edmund O’Brien Guest Column

Edmund O’Brien
Guest Column

I would like to respond to your recent editorial regarding the Metuchen police department DCA report. Unfortunately, neither an editor or a reporter contacted me on some of the issues raised in your editorial, thus my need to comment.

First, let me put in context the reason that this report even exists. In the late ’90s, then Governor Whitman announced that the state would be willing to conduct audits of communities so that waste and inefficiencies could be eliminated, thereby saving tax dollars. Metuchen quickly volunteered and we heard nothing until 2005 when the Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) contacted the chief of our police department indicating that they would be willing to conduct a review.

The borough quickly accepted. This review took place during 2005 and ended in early 2006. After it was completed, the borough was told that we needed to go to Trenton to review their findings, which we did. This is not uncommon with an audit where the agency is asked to respond or review comments or recommendations before a final product is produced. Every municipal financial audit that I am familiar with allows comment on recommendations to assure an accurate audit and we assumed that the DLGS review would follow that model.

While the model was technically followed, what resulted from those meetings can only be described as dismaying.

For instance, upon review of a draft of the report, I found a comment about low morale and when I asked if morale on the force was low and what was the cause of it, I was told it was a mistake and the reviewer took a pen and crossed out the section.

This happened when a comment on high overtime and sick leave was questioned as well. It was deleted from the report as it should have been given that overtime and sick leave use in the borough is extremely low as the report makes clear.

However this was not the only problem with the draft. It contained obviously wrong demographic data on the borough and even included sections that were obviously reports on other towns. When this was pointed out, they deleted those sections. All without explanation as to how they got into the report in the first place!

I could go on with other examples but let me comment on one point raised in the editorial concerning the “school resource officer” to further illustrate my dismay with the process. This recommendation was in a draft report and when I asked for the underlying rationale for the recommendation I was told that, “It is put into all reports because it is a ‘pet project’ of former Governor Codey.” When I pointed out that a recommendation like that without any underlying needs assessment could potentially cost borough taxpayers $100,000 per year, I was told it would be taken out because “…Codey is no longer governor!”

Finally, the Sentinel is in possession of a draft of the report which I haven’t seen but I understand it doesn’t comport with the “official” copy that the borough received causing justifiable concern about which copy is to be believed.

It might interest your readers to know that when the borough received its “final” report that was hand delivered with Metuchen’s name on the cover it was quickly taken back because while our name was on the cover the contents referenced municipalities other than Metuchen! We subsequently got our “final” copy which we offered to provide to the Sentinel.

This DLGS process is deeply flawed and as I described in a letter to the director of DLGS, needs to be reviewed because the process has potential to help towns provide better services to their residents. But I would be hard pressed to recommend a police audit by DLGS under the present circumstances.

Edmund O’Brien is the mayor of Metuchen