Final Notice: Hillside administration’s trail of debt

HILLSIDE, NJ — The Garretson administration, it seems, is struggling to pay the bills.
According to Officer Matt Casterline, Union President of the Patrolmen’s Association, the matter of unpaid bills and accumulating debt has been an ongoing issue for quite some time under the Garretson administration.

Casterline cites an incident two years ago that he refers to as the “sewer crisis.” According to Casterline, the water pipe for the police department’s cellblock — which is located directly above the department’s locker room — burst, sending down a rush of urine and fecal matter onto half of the officers’ lockers.

“There was biohazardous material all over their lockers,” said Casterline. “The officers paid out of their own pockets to replace them. The mayor said she would reimburse them. It took her two years to repay them.”

And, Casterline says, the bills at the department are either getting paid late or not at all. “Our Verizon internet was shut off for a week,” continued Casterline. “The police department had no internet. We had to call Verizon and beg them to turn it back on.”

According to both Casterline and former Hillside council president Salonia Saxton, the council voted to stop paying certain bills.

LocalSource was able to obtain copies of emails sent within the finance department corroborating these claims. “Good Morning, the council has opted not to pay any bills for October 27 and November 10, 2015 Bill List,” reads one email. Another is from a vendor requesting payment for three months of past service.

Saxton says that the situation under Garretson’s administration has been out of control for a long time.

“She’s informed the department heads that they are not allowed to pay bills or go to meetings,” said Saxton. “Her reason is control. We’re saying that we need department heads at meetings. If you have a resident or business owner complaining, I should not have to continue to send memos to department heads to attend meetings.”

Saxton says that Garretson has accused other council members of not paying the bills. “How can you pay bills if you don’t see them?” said Saxton. “I actually had to make an appointment to see the bills. It is unreal. You can’t make this stuff up.”

At press time Garretson and Council President Donald DeAugustine were unavailable for comment.

Another issue facing the department is lack of contracts. According to Sergeant Matt Cove, of president of Superior Officer’s Association, Lodge 160, employees of the department have been working without contract for a long time. “This July will be four years that our lodge is without a contract,” said Cove. “It’s frustrating.”

Casterline says that although negotiations had been under way, the process ended abruptly. “We had started negotiations over and over for the last few years and to no avail,” said Casterline. “We tried to negotiate with the town business administrator, but then he resigned. Then a new administrator and then he resigned, causing us to start over and over. Most recently we made agreements with the township attorney and we were ready to sign a contract, and then the mayor told me she was unaware of any agreements which caused us to start over again. The Patrolman’s Union offered — under good faith — to alleviate the town of longevity for new hires, saving hundreds of dollars for the town, but the mayor wants more from us after we laid off officers, got rid of overtime and gave back raises.”

Casterline says that the police officers who man construction sites get paid by vendors, not the township, but that the township deducts from these officers’ paychecks. “The town takes 25 percent off the top of what we make,” said Casterline. “The town has benefitted in the means of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Casterline is concerned with what he feels is the most important issue facing the department. “We are at record lows when it comes to manpower,” said Casterline.
According to Township Administrator Stephanie Bush-Baskette, the administration is addressing the issue of insufficient manpower. “We are working on bringing in more police officers,” she said.

Casterline says that many of Hillside’s residents have moved there because of its reputation as a safe area, and of having a proactive police department. “This administration’s lack of maintaining the department’s manpower puts this sense of security in jeopardy,” said Casterline. “We will turn into our neighboring towns that are riddled with crime if something isn’t done soon.”

Casterline asserts that the department is down to three detectives. “In the long run, that means that they don’t have the time to investigate some of the nonviolent crimes. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t get a tip about a location for suspected drug dealing. The amount of time and manpower is exhaustive. Where there are drugs there is violence, and it’s only getting worse in Hillside. The money is there. I’ve seen it. But the manpower is held as a bargaining chip.”

According to Saxton, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. “She now has the majority of the council voting with her,” said Saxton of Garretson. “So who’s going to stop her?”

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