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FTPD Union Heads Say They Were Left Out Of Conversation About Public Safety Director

The heads of the two unions representing township police officers say they were blindsided by the Township Council’s move to eliminate the Police Chief and Deputy Chief positions in favor of a Public Safety Director.

The two union presidents say their members would prefer the department stay under a Chief/Deputy Chief command structure.

The Council is expected to introduce an amendment to the Police Department ordinance to create the new position at its July 9 meeting.

Mark Rossman, PBA Local 154 president, and Jimi Holzheimer, PBA Local 154 Supervisory Officers Association president, said they would have appreciated being included in the discussions about changing the department’s command structure.

They also said they are “concerned” that the Council is acting to make the change before the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office could finish its evaluation of the department’s processes and policies, and make any recommendations.

The Prosecutor’s Office assumed oversight of the department as of July 1, following the abrupt retirements of former Police Chief Richard Grammar and Capt. Greg Borlan.

In addition to reviewing the department’s internal processes, the Prosecutor’s Office is also investigating the handling of an incident in April in which an FTPD officer was cited for driving under the influence while on duty.

The Township Council’s apparent desire to scrap the Police Chief/Deputy Chief model in favor of a Police Director is “disheartening” to the rank and file of FTPD PBA Local 154, Rossman said.

“We believe there are more than enough qualified candidates within the department who could take over being Chief of Police,” Rossman said. “That’s how we’ve operated for over 50 years. The department’s been accredited many times. We’ve had good working relationship with every chief we’ve had.”

Holzheimer echoed Rossman’s remarks.

“We had two candidates last time (in 2018)” and the candidate who was not selected “would be a fine candidate this time,” Holzheimer said.

A Public Safety Director, the two presidents said, is a political appointee, which, they said, has its own inherent problems.

“The (Public Safety) Director is a politically appointed person who works under the direction of the town council and can be replaced at any moment if the council is not happy with them,” Rossman said. “That person is more of an outsider and usually is not a resident of the township.”

” The unions would prefer a chief because if you make it a director, it’s all politics,” Holzheimer said.

Holzheimer said that Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives John Fodor, who was named to oversee the department, has been in the position for “five business days, and the Council’s introducing a police director ordinance and I’m not sure the prosecutor’s office was aware of that in advance. If you’re bringing them in for evaluation and recommendations, did they even have time to give a recommendation?”

Rossman said that “it doesn’t make any sense”that the Council is introducing the ordinance amendment without “waiting for any opinions before making the biggest change we’ve ever had in the police department.”

The Council and Township Manager Robert Vornlocker – to whom the Public Safety Director would report – “completely disregarded the union,.” Holzheimer said.

“To say they treated us anything better than poorly would be being nice,” he said.

“There was a complete lack of cooperation,” he said. “All of a sudden we’re left out of the process. We didn’t appear to be part of the problem.”

Rossman and Holzheimer said their members had no plans to attend the meeting when the amendment is introduced.

“Hopefully they’ll start to treat the unions better so we can work in unison and cooperation,” Holzheimer said.

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