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Somerset County Prosecutor Finds No Criminal Or Administrative Violations In FTPD ‘Union Time’ Use

The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has closed its investigation into township police use of its “union time” benefit, saying there is no evidence that any officer who used the perk violated the law or department policy.

The Prosecutor’s Office did, however, criticize the FTPD’s former administrative team for poor record-keeping relating to the granting of “union time” to officers.

The issue of Franklin Township Police officers using “union time” – paid time off for members of PBA Local 154 to attend to union business – erupted in August, when the township released a statement alleging “substantial mismanagement” by former police administration in authorizing “union time.”

The statement said that the “union time” issue had been raised by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office in July, when Prosecutor Michael Robertson assumed leadership of the township police department after the sudden retirements of Chief Richard Grammar and Captain Greg Borlan, and installed his Chief of Detectives John Fodor as the police chief.

The PBA contracts allow for the Local presidents or their designees to take up to 10 days a year of the “union time” off for attending events such as union meetings and conventions, or conducting other union business.

The union members are paid straight time for the time they take off on “union time.”

The contracts also allow the state PBA delegate, or that person’s designee, to take “union time” to conduct union business or attend union meetings and conventions.

In a Sept. 4, 2019 memo to Fodor, SCPO Det. Sgt. Justin Berger wrote that the “internal affairs” investigation into “union time” use was closed and that “it does not appear that there has been any criminal conduct or administrative policy violations committed by any individual officer who submitted applications for ‘union time’ that were subsequently approved.”

Berger wrote that poor record-keeping in the department prevented investigators from determining the “qualifications for, and the extent and use of ‘union time’ because “there is no written documentation concerning that time.”

“It appears that the former Chiefs and Captain either approved or directed others to approve ‘union time’ in any particular matter and with any particular officer they chose to grant such time,” Berger wrote. “Without knowing the origin of this specific type of time off, the State would not be able to prove the intentions of those authorizing that time off to benefit themselves or others, or to injure others as would be required to prove some type of benefit to those individuals who authorized that time off.”

The letter was released by the Somerset County Democratic organization in a press release in which they defended the party’s candidate for Somerset County Sheriff, Darrin Russo.

Russo, a retired FTPD Lieutenant, came under fire by his Republican opponent, William Parenti, for his reported use of the “union time” perk.

“It’s time for Parenti to apologize to my fellow officers now that the Prosecutor’s Office has completely absolved my fellow Franklin police officers and me,” Russo said in the release. “It’s a shame Parenti decided to smear all these honorable men and women to score political points, especially since the prosecutor’s office rightly laid the issue on Mr. Parenti’s own campaign advisor, former Chief Larry Roberts.”

“Parenti talks about being ‘ready on day one’ but on the first day of his campaign he lied about the North Plainfield PBA endorsing him. Now we find out on day 100 he lied about me and all the other officers,” Russo said in the release. “It is time for Parenti and Roberts to admit they were wrong and to apologize to the officers whose character and integrity they so casually besmirched.”

Citing the “union time” issue as one reason for its action, the Township Council in August adopted an ordinance amendment that did away with the Chief of Police position and substituted a Public Safety Director. Rather than report to the County Prosecutor, as the police chief did, the Public Safety Director will report to Township Manager Robert Vornlocker.

Township officials see this move as a way to ensure the police department is run efficiently.

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