Attorney calls out mayor, police director over hiring issues

ELIZABETH, NJ — A Westfield attorney is asking Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and Elizabeth Police Director James Cosgrove to follow Civil Service regulations and promote officers within the EPD, calling out both the mayor and police director for their alleged refusal to hire and promote more police officers.

Joshua McMahon, in a letter last week to Robert Varady, attorney for the city, took Bollwage and Cosgrove to task on behalf of his clients, Todd Kelly and James Kearns.

Kelly and Kearns, both sergeants in the EPD, filed complaints against the mayor and police director last year for the alleged unlawful hiring practices and promotion of certain officers, while skipping over promotions that both officers claim they are entitled to, according to Civil Service rules.

Varady is representing the city and Bollwage in the ongoing litigation.
McMahon forwarded his letter to Varady to all nine members of the Elizabeth City Council. In it, he addressed the issue of diminishing manpower in the department, noting that with the recent retirement of an EPD lieutenant the table of organization, or TO, at the lieutenant level will plummet to 15 from 21.

“This is incredibly dangerous and fraught with peril for both the residents of Elizabeth as well as the men and women who police the state’s fourth largest city,” McMahon wrote. “I am similarly told that neither Cosgrove nor Bollwage will even discuss said issue, which is something I will, of course, explore at subsequent depositions.”

LocalSource reached out to Bollwage, Cosgrove, Varady and all nine members of the council. As of press time, none responded to requests for comment.
“In short, more than 25 percent of supervisory positions at lieutenant remain unfilled, and the growing overtime costs to taxpayers is outrageous and unprecedented, to say nothing of the jeopardy your politician clients are putting the people of Elizabeth in,” wrote McMahon in his letter. “By Bollwage and Cosgrove refusing to promote my clients, to fulfill their own shameful, personal vendetta against one of their own, they put Elizabeth families, women and children in jeopardy, and needlessly waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.”

MacMahon accused both Bollwage and Cosgrove of turning a blind eye to the cost of ongoing litigation and amount of overtime expenditures.

“As a citizen and Union County taxpayer, I am very troubled by your clients’ wasteful spending and indifference to protecting the largely minority community he is supposedly elected to serve,” MacMahon wrote in the letter. “Just as important, the cops deserve better than a bunch of politicians playing political games with public safety. At a certain point, your and your clients’ respective conduct will be brought to the full light of day, and your intransigence will be judged, I suspect, very harshly.”

Between Jan. 1 and April 15 of this year, EPD officers clocked 5,672.75 hours in overtime, according to records obtained through an Open Public Records Act request by LocalSource.

Last year, two police unions — the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Superior Officers Association, representing the close to 300-member police force — voted “no confidence” in Cosgrove, accusing him of retaliatory measures, including failure to promote officers according to Civil Service lists, skipping SOA members on promotional lists, taking away pay jobs from police captains, manipulation of the Civil Service system, and understaffing the EPD, among other grievances.

Juan Guzman, a former police detective with the EPD for 25 years who also served as the police union’s president before retiring last year, told LocalSource that personal vendettas and unfair and retaliatory practices within the department are par for the course.

“The director has a personal vendetta against anyone that goes against him,” Guzman said in a recent phone interview. “The mayor is behind him and there’s no higher authority and he just does what he wants. That’s why guys leave; that’s why I left. It affects people’s lives and families.”

Guzman noted that Sgt. Kelly and Sgt. Kearns both tested at the top of the 2014 Civil Service test and said that both were simply skipped over for promotions. Kelly has been with the force since 1996, and Kearns since 1991.

“Cosgrove won’t promote them unless he has to,” Guzman said of the police director. “Bollwage has Cosgrove do his dirty work.”

According to the Final Administration Action of the Civil Service Commission, obtained by LocalSource, Kelly ranked first on the February 2014 Civil Service lieutenant’s list, while Kearns placed second. That list expired Feb. 5.
Guzman said that while he served in the EPD, he was outspoken about the treatment he claims officers received at the hands of Cosgrove.

“’I was very vocal about how Cosgrove treated guys,” he said. “Then he turned my own guys against me. There’s only so much you can take. It’s political retribution. The taxpayers pay for their legal fees and they wait until these guys run out of financial resources,” he said of the mayor and police director.

Guzman said he began uncovering damaging information on the mayor, police director and others at the department and alleged that he was promoted to the rank of detective in order to keep him quiet.

“I was uncovering lots of stuff, so they gave me a badge to shut me up,” he said.
Eventually, Guzman said, he was shut out of the computer system and locked out of his office when the locks were changed.

“I was moved to a different location and I lost total faith in the administration,” Guzman said.

McMahon told LocalSource that taxpayer money spent on litigation by the mayor is hurting the city.

“Bollwage continues to think he is the star of his own ‘Gangs of New York’ and that he and his conspirators and affiliates can simply do whatever they want because no one will stand up to them,” McMahon said in a recent email.

“So let me be crystal clear: Bollwage can pay his friend and campaign contributor Bob Varady all the millions he wants in wasted taxpayer money, but it will not stop us from standing up against and exposing the rampant fraud, waste and abuse of the hardworking taxpayers taking place at the mayor’s explicit direction and on his watch.”

McMahon also called out the mayor for the political climate of the city.
“The political culture he and his cronies have cultivated is a scourge on the city and he and his minions must be removed, root and branch,” McMahon said. “The people deserve honest politicians who make decisions based on merit, not envelopes. There will be no settlement. There will only be a trial. And when I have Chris on the stand, under oath, in the public eye, the world will judge for itself who is telling the truth and who is lying.”

According to Guzman, the situation at the the EPD is indicative of a much larger problem.

“Kearns and Kelly represent what’s going to happen to you if you go against them,” he said of Bollwage and his cronies. “They point to them and say, ‘You don’t want to end up like these two guys.’”