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Township Council Approves Public Safety Director; Nationwide Search Expected

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said he expects to launch a nationwide search to find a person with long law enforcement experience to be the township’s Public Safety Director.

The township is expected to launch a nationwide search to fill its newly created Public Safety Director position.

The Council created the position Aug. 13 in a unanimous vote to approve amendments to the police ordinance.

The Public Safety Director will replace the Chief and Deputy Chief of Police positions, which the ordinance amendment also dissolved.

The Director will be chosen and will report to Township Manager Robert Vornlocker.

The move comes in the wake of several blows to the township police department’s image:

  • the guilty plea of a former township policeman to charges of possession of heroin and driving while intoxicated after he was found unconscious in his patrol car in April while on duty,
  • the sudden retirement of former Chief Richard Grammar and Capt. Greg Borlan, his second-in-command,
  • the revelation that dozens of township police officers may have abused a policy allowing certain members of PBA Local 154 to take “union time” off to attend to union business,
  • the assumption of day-to-day operations at the police department by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, which is to do a “top to bottom” review of department policies and procedures.

Vornlocker said he expected the search for a Public Safety Director to take several months.

“This will be a lengthy process,” Vornlocker said. “This is not something where we will look to recruit candidates over a week’s time.”

Vornlocker said that he is now creating a job description for the position, and is getting job descriptions from other towns that employ public safety directors to help create it.

The change from a police chief to public safety director comes with some controversy. Several residents spoke against the amendment at the Aug. 13 Council meeting.

Beverly Briggs-Lawson of Amwell Road, who is running for mayor on the Republican ticket, called the move “short-sighted.”

“I find it hard to fathom that there is no current Franklin captain or lieutenant who is not better-suited to lead the department than a civilian with no police authority,” she said. “It is obvious that the council is more interested in the good of the (Democratic) party than what is best for the citizens and the morale of the police department.”

Robert Peterson of Wilson Road said he was “frustrated” by the Council.

“It’s the repeated disenfranchisement of the people of this town,” he said. “What back deals are being done here, I have to wonder?”

Peterson said that with a police chief, the township was getting a sworn officer and a trained administrator.

“Why would we want a politically appointed civilian administrator, answerable to our township administrator, as opposed to a professional police person who has risen through the ranks, has the respect of the people he manages as opposed to being driven by the whims of a political town council?” he asked.

Also opposed to the move was Sam Velu, also on the Republican Township Council slate for November. Velu said he wondered why the Council wanted to create the new position before the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has delivered its report and recommendations for the department.

“Our police department is one of the finest in this country,” he said. “For us to take that chief of police and deputy chief of police away from them is just not right.”

“However you slice it, this is a patronage position,” Velu said. “As a Council, I hope you show some leadership here and say, we’ll take our time, there’s no hurry.

Richard Seamon suggested that the amendment be further amended to add a sunset clause of 12 months. The Council did not take his suggestion.

Teresa Ford told the council that she thought they were making the right move.

“It seems to me a lot of things have gone on with the police department, I think it’s the right move,” she said. “I think someone has to step in and take leadership and get things under order. Seems to me that that’s the position that the council is trying to take right now.”

“If you don’t get control of the situation, you’re not leading,” Ford said.

In a written statement, Kramer said that he was “angered” when he learned of the “union time” issue.

“I was angered that the former police leadership would have authorized this, the practice has now ended, and it will not happen again,” he said. “The administrative structure of a Chief of Police makes it difficult for the Manager and the Mayor and Council to monitor such practices. It prevents the Manager from being involved with day-to-day issues.”

“The structure of a Public Safety Director allows the Manager and the Mayor and Council to monitor the day to day operations but still excludes us from being involved with matters of law enforcement,” he said.

Kramer also disputed comments that the public safety director will be a political patronage position. He said the township administration is prohibited from involving itself in police matters.

“I believe it is vital we take this action at this time,” Kramer said. “I will not take a chance of sacrificing the thing that means the most to the people of Franklin, their safety.”

Vornlocker said he would be looking for a person with a history in law enforcement.

“We will be looking for someone with a long history of command experience in a law enforcement agency,” he said

“Certainly people have begun to express interest in that position,” Vornlocker said. “Every single person who has expressed an interest in the position, my answer to them has been, the council hasn’t even adopted the ordinance, we’re still being supervised by the County Chief of Detectives. When this position becomes available you should apply. It will be advertised in a number of locations, and I anticipate having a nationwide search for a qualified candidate.”

Deputy Mayor James Vassanella said the Council has vetted the proposal.

“We’re not just hiring someone who has no involvement, has no understanding of the mindset of the men and women who are putting their lives on the line for us every day.,” he said.

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