Mayor, council at odds over police ordinance

Staff Writer

EDISON — Mayor Antonia Ricigliano and the Township Council have butted heads for months over the township’s ordinance governing police hiring and promotions, but a vote is expected on the issue this week.

Council President Robert Diehl said he expected the matter to be discussed and voted on during the Sept. 25 meeting.

Some of the sticking points in the ordinance include the council’s involvement in the promotion process, and whether entrylevel police candidates must have 60 college credits.

A central issue in the debate has been the council’s proposed elimination of the “rule of three” that is used during the police promotion process. The ordinance that was initially proposed included the rule, which requires three township officials — the mayor, business administrator and chief of police — to interview the three ranking candidates for a given position. The mayor, who serves as director of public safety, would decide on the promotion.

However, the council’s revised ordinance replaces the business administrator with a retired state Superior Court judge chosen by the council. If the judge is unavailable, the council would select a qualified replacement. The mayor and police chief would then have to reach an agreement on the promotion.

Township Management Specialist William Stephens said this presents a legal issue because the council does not have hiring authority under Edison’s form of government, which is based on New Jersey’s Faulkner Act.

“In their revised, proposed ordinance, they give themselves authority, which is overstepping their boundaries,” he said.

Other issues in the debate are the elimination of the credit given for military service and for advanced education for promotions above the rank of sergeant. Ricigliano requested the inclusion of the military credit after the council introduced its revised ordinance in July.

The council’s revised ordinance changes the entry-level criteria for police officers. In lieu of the requirement that a candidate have at least 60 college credits, anyone who is certified by the New Jersey Police Training Commission and has been in good standing for a year may be considered for a position, according to the revised ordinance.

Stephens said he and the mayor consider the 60-credit requirement to be important, and he is concerned with the changes that the council has made. For example, he said an applicant who has served four years with the police auxiliary may be considered to become a police officer. This could be costly for the township if it has to pay for that candidate to attend the police academy, Stephens said.

Ricigliano said so many revisions have been made to the proposed ordinance that it has become confusing. She said the administration would have been more than willing to sit down with the council to discuss issues with the ordinance.

“There would have been parts where we would have agreed,” she said.

In a letter to Diehl in July, Ricigliano said she was “disturbed that the council has caved in to the demands of the police union and deleted the credit for military service and advanced education for promotions above the rank of sergeant.”

Councilman Michael Lombardi, who is an attorney, is reviewing a nine-page letter that Township Attorney Karl Kemm sent to the council regarding the ordinance, according to Diehl. He said the council members are cognizant of the importance of the ordinance and that they hope to move forward with it at this week’s meeting.

Council members said the revised ordinance eliminates politics as much as possible from the police hiring and promotions processes.

The proposed ordinance states that the Police Department will consist of a chief, six captains, 19 lieutenants, 35 sergeants and 135 patrol officers. This increases the number of sergeants by one and the number of patrolmen by 25.

Ricigliano has since February sought to move forward with the ordinance. The ordinance she proposed had garnered the backing of Police Chief Thomas Bryan, Acting Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey and former county Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan.