Township Reviewing ‘Union Time’ Paid Leave Taken By FTPD Officers For ‘Appropriateness’

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said he and township attorney Lou Rainone are reviewing information on the FTPD’s use of “union time” paid leave to see if any of it was granted inappropriately.

In the wake of allegations of “substantial mismanagement” by the township police department’s former top brass, officials are determining which FTPD officers may have inappropriately used a benefit known as “union time” to take paid leave over the past nearly three years.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said on Aug. 6 that he and township attorney Lou Rainone are reviewing records to see who on the force may have taken the benefit without being entitled to it, or may have used more “union time” than is allowed for in the township’s contract with PBA Local 154.

Local 154 is comprised of two segments, the PBA which represents officers other than supervisors, the Deputy Chief and Chief, and the Superior Officers Association, which covers sergeants and lieutenants.

Records released by the township via an Open Public Records Act request show that several PBA Local 154 officials were each granted more than 1,000 hours of “union time” from the start of 2016 through the middle of July 2019, in some cases considerably more than would seem to be allowed under the township’s contracts with the FTPD PBA Local.

But, Vornlocker said, it’s not as simple as adding up hours.

“There are a lot of different factors” to consider in making the determination of who used the “union time” legitimately, Vornlocker said.

Vornlocker said he hopes to have most of the information on use of “union time” he needs when he meets later this month with union representatives to discuss the situation.

On Aug. 5, the township released a statement – which Vornlocker said was penned by Rainone – alleging mismanagement of the police force by its command team. The statement used the issue of “union time” as one example of that alleged mismanagement. No other examples were given.

The alleged mismanagement was discovered by members of the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office in early 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 township’s statement noted that the township was informed by the prosecutor’s office that “dozens of officers have used hundreds of days of time contrary to the unambiguous terms” of the contracts covering the PBA and the SOA.

“This mismanagement was obscured by the fact that New Jersey Law prevents the Township Council and Manager from exercising effective oversight of the day to day management of the Police Department when that Department is headed by a Chief of Police,” the statement reads.

“It became very apparent very early in the process that there was far more time being granted than was appropriate,” Vornlocker said. “We’re trying to say, yeah, this is an issue and we need to address it.”

One way the Township Council has chosen to address the situation is to abolish the positions of Chief and Deputy Chief, and replace them with a Public Safety Director. The Township Council is set this month to vote on an ordinance amendment that would do just that.

The Public Safety Director would report to the Township Manager, and would have to give the manager reports on the division’s operations at least monthly.

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.

The fact that the contracts allow for the designation of others to take the “union time” “leaves that part open for interpretation right now,” Vornlocker said.

“Another portion of the contract deals with negotiations and naming of negotiators for the negotiating committee, and those names have to be identified,” he said.

“Then there’s a state statute that allows for up to 10 officers to attend the two annual conventions,” Vornlocker said. “That could be any officer in the union attending those conventions. We have to identify those officers that attended the conventions. The union is going to be providing us the list of those people.”

“This is still an ongoing discussion with union officials of who did what when, so the final tally isn’t there yet,” he said.

Also, not every officer granted “union time” delineated how that time would be used, Vornlocker said, “so now we’re going through the dates of the conventions.”

Vornlocker left open the idea that “union time” isn’t necessarily restricted to attending meetings and conventions.

“The fundraisers that they attended are all well and good,” he said. “There are certainly times when you would want to grant somebody leave because they’re doing things like community policing.”

“Police officers attending the “Week of the People” event to hand out backpacks to kids in the community, that probably should have been coded as a special assignment,” he said.

In all, 61 members of the police department received “union time” off during the subject time period, which was from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 16, 2019.

A review of Time Off Activity Reports provided by the township via an Open Public Records Act request shows that the top five officers in the department in terms of taking “union time” hours in the subject period were:

  • Ptl. Mark Rossman – president of PBA Local 154 – with 2,418 hours
  • Sgt. Ken Daly – the former PBA State Delegate – with 1,811.77 hours
  • Sgt. James Holzheimer Jr. – the SOA president – with 1,381 hours
  • Sgt. Edward Stout Jr. – a former vice-president and president of the SOA – with 739 hours, and
  • Det. Mark Keller – the current PBA State Delegate – with 709.29 hours.

“Union time” hours taken during the subject time period then drop markedly among the next five, with Ptl. Brian Quigley logging 581 hours, Det. Emma Bascom clocking 335.99 hours, retired Lt. Darrin Russo – a former SOA president – logging 273 hours, Ptl. Walter Skrobowski logging 262.5 hours and Sgt. Damian Rostek logging 260.17 hours.

Of the 61 officers included in the Time Off Activity reports, 40 logged fewer than 100 “union time” hours in the nearly three-year time period.

The Time Off Activity Reports also show when a group of officers took the same days off on “union time,” such as March 3-11 2016, when anywhere from six to eight officers each day took “union time,” some of whom delineated that time for attending a PBA convention.

Later that year, on Sept. 13 and 14, about a half-dozen officers took “union time” off, some of whom designated that time to attend a PBA convention in Arizona.

On March 6 and 7, 2017, about eight officers took “union time,” ostensibly to attend a PBA mini-convention.

There are also many instances of two and three officers taking the same days off on “union time.”

Rossman, Holzheimer and former Chiefs Lawrence Roberts and Grammar declined to comment for this story.

This is a developing story. Check the Franklin Reporter & Advocate for updates.

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