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By: Cheryl Hehl - Staff Writer
CRANFORD— Police Lt. James Wozniak, a member of the force for 23 years, will
be the next township police chief.
The Township Committee made the decision last week after a closed door meeting, but it was decided not to make an official announcement until Oct. 1 because there were still small details to work out. However, according to one source, the 43 member police force was told Sept. 12 that Wozniak would be the next top cop.
According to another source, who has been closely involved with the selection process, when all was said and done, the choice was not difficult.
“Lt. Wozniak was the best choice for Cranford,” the source noted, adding that while the three other candidates — Lt. Stephen Wilde, Lt. Edward Davenport and Capt. Joseph Van Bergen — all had excellent qualifications and did well in the interview and testing process, Wozniak came out as the person who was the “best fit.”
Wozniak, who began his career as a street patrolman, worked his way through the ranks. Married and the father of three children, he lives in Cranford.
Although sources close to the issue refused to discuss why a decision was made to delay public announcement of the new police chief, one member of the governing body did suggest there were “loose ends to wrap up.”
“We have several things to wrap up before this announcement. They are minor things but still require attention,” said the source.
Apparently, the delay involves the timing surrounding Police Chief Eric Mason’s activation of the retirement papers to the state, which have been on hold since late May. In May questions surfaced regarding a new state treasury regulation involving public employees retiring from one public position and moving immediately into another.
This threw a wrench into the the township’s decision for Mason to retire as police chief and transition into the administrator position permanently as of June 1. Mason assumed the duel role of police chief and administrator Sept. 12, 2011 when former township administrator Marlena Schmid was placed on paid administrative leave.
Schmid remained on leave until the end of the year when she was permanently let go. Details surrounding her dismissal have not been made public nor has there been any indication how much severance Schmid received.
According to Deputy Mayor Andis Kalnins, the township is prepared to move forward at this point with appointing Mason as administrator. There is some confusion, though, whether the township actually received clarification from the state regarding the new state regulation, which took effect March 1.
The new regulation required that any public employee intending to collect a pension from the state not take another position in the same municipality for 180 days. However, because the township committee agreed to Mason retiring as chief and taking on the administrator position prior to March 1, this presented a problem that required input from the state treasury department.
Township records indicated that it was Feb. 28 when the governing body unanimously approved Mason to take over as administrator when he retired May 31. This was prior to the new regulation going into effect March 1.
In June State Treasury Department head Bill Quinn said the question of whether the regulation applied or not was “murky.” Because of this, the issue had to be investigated, but Quinn said unless there was evidence to the contrary, the fact the township committee did not know about the new regulation and they unanimously approved hiring Mason as administrator at a public meeting Feb. 28, it was unlikely the matter would become an issue.
According to Mason, neither he or his attorney received any clarification from the state, but Kalnins did say at the end of August the governing body was now clear on how to proceed. Following this, the township resumed interviews with the four candidates for police chief, and subsequently selected Wozniak as the new police chief last week.