Hillside quickly decides on its next police chief

HILLSIDE — Just days after the township’s top cop retired rather than continue to fight the mayor, a new police chief is about to take the helm.
Tuesday night, after press deadline, Capt. Louis Panarese, 54, was expected to be appointed provisional police chief until civil service approves the promotion.

The veteran police officer, born and raised in Hillside, rose through the ranks and was Mayor Joseph Menza’s choice for the position.
The appointment of the top cop position is a mayoral appointment, but requires the approval of the township council. But, while Menza and council members are usually at odds over most things concerning the operation of the township, this was not one of them, he said.

“Actually committee members did the interviews with me,” Menza said Tuesday, pointing out that the selection of Panarese was the right decision for the township.

“This is a Hillside guy who came through the ranks, worked his way up to this spot,” Menza explained, adding that the acting chief, Capt. John Robertson would be appointed to the deputy chief position.

The mayor said that although Hillside is a civil service town, never in the history of appointing police chiefs has anyone taken the civil service exam, so he does not expect the provisional status to be a problem.

“This is just a technicality and we are going to work with it for right now,” Menza said.
Panarese’s salary will jump from $149,000 to $165,00, but Menza said that is a “far cry” from what Quinlan was making.

“Can you believe he was making $215,000 as chief,” the mayor said, explaining that he received quite a shock when he learned what the former police chief put in for unused compensatory time.

“I can’t believe he is asking for $350,000 for unused sick and vacation days. That is outrageous. We don’t have that kind of money,” Menza said, pointing out that he is going to have to look into the matter before the township signs any check for Quinlan.

The former police chief and the mayor had an ongoing battle for over a year, one that eventually led to Quinlan deciding to abruptly retire.
“I’ve had quite enough,” Quinlan said in an interview with LocalSource at the end of January, adding that he was leaving with his head held high after serving as police chief for ten years.

Quinlan and Menza had been battling for more than a year after the police chief filed a multi-count lawsuit against Menza. Quinlan said the case is about the mayor withholding contractual benefits, but would not go into what this involved.

“I don’t care how long it takes but I will have my day in court with Mayor Menza,” Quinlan said last month, adding that he was “looking forward to it.”

Menza said Tuesday that he has his own issues about what Quinlan was disputing, pointing out that the former chief was “overpaid” during his tenure.