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Township Council Moves To Scrap FTPD Chief Position For Public Safety Director

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker discusses the ordinance amendment that would create a Public Safety Director’s position overseeing the police department.

An ordinance amendment that would replace the Franklin Township Police Chief’s position with a Public Safety Director was unanimously introduced at the July 9 Township Council meeting.

The change comes at a time when the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has assumed oversight of the department while it is investigating the circumstances of an FTPD officer being charged with DUI in April while on duty.

The change also comes in the wake of the sudden retirements of former Chief of Police Richard Grammar and Capt. Greg Borlan, both of whom left at the end of June.

The Public Safety Director will report to Township Manager Robert Vornlocker.

Vornlocker said that the change in the police department’s command structure is necessary to “ensure efficient operations of the police department. This ordinance will allow the township to get a fresh perspective of the department.”

“Unlike the current ordinance, it will allow the search for the department’s next leader to expand beyond the current members of the force,” Vornlocker said. “Unlike a police chief, the director will not have lifetime tenure. This ordinance will strengthen the accountability of the police department to both the Township Manager and the Council.”

There was no indication given as to why the Council felt it was necessary to strengthen the department’s accountability to the Council, or what aspects of the department were not being run efficiently.

“It will ensure that our best officers are focused on their core law enforcement responsibilities, and that the department will have professional management at the top,” Vornlocker said.

Vornlocker said that reports that the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office had “taken over” the police department were not accurate. The SCPO was invited to come into the department by the Township Council, he said.

“Evaluations could be done and recommendations could be made to improve the professionalism and management of the police department,” he said.

“I think that as we move forward, this will be a very positive thing for the township and a very positive thing for the police department,” Vornlocker said.

Under the new structure, should the ordinance amendment be approved in August, top management in what will be called the Division of Police will be an Officer in Charge who will report to the Public Safety Director. The director will report to Vornlocker.

“The day-to-day operational responsibilities for the police department will fall to the Public Safety Director,” Vornlocker said.

Vornlocker said the ordinance amendment has to be acted on now to prepare the township for the time when the SCPO has finished its evaluation of the department and made its recommendations.

He did not mention any of the investigations that are being undertaken by the Prosecutor’s Office.

“This is a long process as far as the appointing of a Public Safety Director,” Vornlocker said. “The truth is I don’t anticipate the Prosecutor’s Office process to be exceptionally long aS the township needs to move forward, and the process will take time.

“You can’t decide six months from now that the decision is to move forward with a public safety director and you begin that process now, and I, who is charged with the obligation and the responsibility of recruitment and interview and vetting and recommendation for this position, that whole process is not something that takes days or even weeks, it takes months,” he said.

“This is not something that’s being rushed into,” Vornlocker said. “This is something that’s the beginning of a lengthy process.”

Vornlocekr’s last comments were in response to criticisms from some residents – including two Republican challengers to Mayor Phil Kramer and the Township Council’s At-Large members – who questioned the timing of the ordinance amendment.

“Why the rush to appoint a public safety director, why not wait until the Prosecutor’s Office has made their decision?” asked Beverly Briggs Lawson, who is challenging Kramer for the Mayor’s seat. “It just seems rushed. What are the qualifications for this individual? Is the person going to be in law enforcement, or is this going to be a regular citizen?”

“As a person who lives in this town, we’re just asking for answers,” she said. “We just want to know what is going on, and why is everything a secret? Why can’t you just let the public know what’s going on?”

Sam Velu, who is running for an At-Large Council seat, said he is “still learning how the local government works, and I am sure I don’t want to be working that way.”

“Common sense tells us that we should wait until (the Prosecutor’s Office) tell(s) us what their recommendations should be, and then pass this ordinance,” he said. “I’m not sure what the hurry to pass the ordinance is.”

“I didn’t see a job description or qualifications,” Velu said. “The overwhelming consensus that I read and see recommends that we should not be going in this direction.”

The ordinance amendment is scheduled to be put up for a second reading and final vote at the Council’s Aug. 13 meeting.

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