CRANFORD — Although it initially appeared the resignation of the township administrator had to do with Cranford’s form of government, something else ignited the firestorm.
According to sources within the fire department, a policy decision regarding the hiring and advancement of firefighters brought the entire matter to a head for administrator Joe Hartnett, who handed in his resignation to the Township Committee two weeks ago.
Although Hartnett initially told the governing body he would be leaving Sept. 30, he has since agreed to stay until Nov. 15 in order to ensure a smooth transition when a new administrator is hired. The township is moving quickly towards this end, putting an announcement for the position on the township website and online with the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
According to the Cranford website ad, the township is looking for an experienced administrator with excellent communication skills and the ability to interact effectively with the public, employees and government officials. The same ad is posted with the League of Municipalities. “Interacting effectively” with the governing body could be a clue as to why Hartnett is leaving after just eight months in the administrator position.
Multiple sources from within the fire department, who preferred their names not be used because of reprisal, confirmed that several weeks ago Hartnett authorized Fire Chief Leonard Dolan III to hire a new firefighter. When Mayor Tom Hannen heard about it, he felt there were policy concerns at issue that needed to be addressed, changed or put in place within the department and the administrator was told to put the entire matter on hold.
Hartnett, according to sources, was not at all happy about his authority being overridden by Hannen, and his resignation was turned in shortly afterward.
Hannen has refused to discuss the matter, maintaining any issues being discussed by the governing body involves personnel and therefore it remains a closed session agenda item.
“I have no comment on personnel issues involving the promotional process in the fire department,” the mayor said, adding that this involved personnel issues and all inquires should be directed to the township administrator.
Meanwhile, firefighters who have had longtime concerns about the fact there is no policy in the fire department regarding advancements, new hires or the appointment of volunteer callmen, were concerned about being labeled “crybabies” about the situation that has been smoldering for years.
“We put our lives on the line out there and we get it that there are protocols in place, but if those protocols are not fair and favoritism is running rampant, then something needs to change,” said one firefighter.
Another said the fact there is no real policy in place regarding advancements opens the door for nepotism and favoritism.
“If anyone complains about how things are, they are viewed as crybabies who make a lot of money and should be glad they have a job. We are extremely grateful for the jobs we have as firefighters in Cranford and the health benefits but many of us have been in the department for a long time with no chance to advance with the way things stand,” the firefighter said.
Of the firefighters LocalSource spoke with, most stopped short of saying Dolan was not a good fire chief. One did say, though, that morale is low among firefighters who are not “favored” by Dolan.
“He has his favorites,” the firefighter said, adding that the fact the township committee was looking into the matter was a relief.
“We finally have someone’s ear who can change things and that almost went down in flames a few weeks ago but it looks like things might finally be getting on the right track,” the firefighter said, adding that the only thing they want is for things to be “fair.”