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Residents Voice Opinion on Police Chief Mathis' Resignation at Council Meeting

Bobbie Peer

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 • 3:06pm

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - An ordinance was introduced at Tuesday evening's council meeting revising the "Qualifications for Appointment" for new hires in the Police Division of the Department of Public Safety. The public hearing will be held at the Aug. 8 council meeting.

An ordinance was introduced amending the current eligibility requirement for new hires in the Police Division of the Department of Public Safety of a high school diploma or its equivalence to earning a "bachelor's or higher degree awarded by a bachelor's degree granting college or university. Qualified veterans, as defined by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, who have not earned a bachelor's or higher degree awarded by a bachelor's degree-granting college or university, can substitute a combination of two years of full-time, active military service and an associate's degree awarded by a degree-granting college or university to satisfy the education requirements. If a qualified veteran, can substitute four years of full-time, active military service the education requirement may be waived."

Former Union County Prosecutor Ted Romankow applauded the council for changing the ordinance, however he feels the requirements as written will restrict the pool of qualified candidates too severely.  Romankow commented that the standard Police Training Commission has a two-year college requirement.  

The two-year college requirement plus the Alternate Route program provides the best hiring option for the municipality, stated Romankow. The recruit is pre-trained and ready to work.

(Note: The Alternate Route program allows qualified candidates to participate in the New Jersey Police Training Commission’s Basic Course for Police Officers without first being appointed to a municipal or county police agency. The benefit is the same for both the Alternate Route recruit and the hiring agency: Upon graduation, the recruit is pre-trained and ready to work.)

He advised that veterans are moved to the top, and are protected. "I don't think it is necessary for a four year degree," said Romankow. "The four year degree will not allow you to hire some good hires." Romankow further encouraged the council to hire Alternate Route candidates and advised them to consider grand fathering the current dispatchers. "You have a great crew," said Romankow.

Councilman Ed Delia agreed with Romankow and would like to see the change in the ordinance to state a two year degree in lieu of a bachelor's degree. "See how it works and see what type of class we get," said Delia. "After that, we can re-evaluate. Let's not start off with the four years. We are jumping too far ahead." 

Lt. John DiPasquale, who was recently named "Officer in Charge" of the Berkeley Heights Police Department, had discussed with Township Administrator Linda Cavanaugh his opinion that the four-year degree would limit the pool of candidates. He would like to consider 60 credits (equivalent to two years of college education without the actual degree) plus the Alternate Route program (awaiting certification). 

DiPasquale explained that a four-year college graduate may present themselves well in the interview but may not have the skill set to become an officer and may realize being a police officer is not for them. Hiring the candidates that have gone through the Alternate Route program, are capable to be a police officer. 

Councilman Kevin Hall stated that asking for the requirement of a bachelor's degree is not setting the bar too high. 

Mayor Joe Bruno agreed with Hall, "I think with demands and the starting pay, a four year degree isn't asking too much."  

Romankow concluded that studies indicated that two year college people do better work than four year's due to job experience. 

"I don't think requiring a bachelor's is extreme," said Councilman Bob Woodruff. "It is appropriate and is as easy err on the side of more education. If this is limiting the pool, we can re-examine." 

Delia and Councilman Craig Pastore voted against the ordinance while Hall, Woodruff, Council President Jeanne Kingsley, and Councilman Tom Pirone voted in favor. 

Residents approached the council regarding the recent resignation and pending litigation between the Township, Mayor and former Police Chief Michael Mathis. It was confirmed that the taxpayers will pay the burden of the township's litigation.  

A resident voiced his opinion that he would like the Township to use their ability to reinstate Chief Mathis and avoid the taxpayers burden of paying litigation costs. It was also asked if an employee has ever canceled their plan to retire and continued to work.

Township Attorney Joseph Sordillo advised the Mayor and Council to not respond to the subject due to the pending litigation.

Romankow, with his experience as the County Prosecutor and President of Prosecutors Association, said, "We have a diamond in our back yard in Chief Mathis. It's a shame to go through litigations -- fighting over something that is totally unnecessary.

"I've dealt with Chief Mathis, who is progressive and dedicated to his men and women, citizens to the town -- and has proved himself over and over again," said Romankow. He went on to list Mathis' accomplishments including: reduced crime rate, worked with an incomplete department, a community oriented chief, started the Police Academy and Crisis Intervention Center, he is involved in more training than 90% of other chiefs - not costing the town a dime, started the 911 reverse. "There is no reason to continue to do this," advised Romankow. "This guy is too good to let go." He asked the mayor and council to reconsider before the judge makes the decision.

Upon Romankow's statement, various spectators at the meeting applauded Romankow's words about Mathis.  

Resident Gay Hollowell also commented in favor of keeping Chief Mathis, and agreed with Romankow to resolve the situation prior to litigation. "It would be best for the community. Our community does not need to go through this type of situation," said Hollowell.

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