HILLSIDE — The mayor lashed out at the police chief last week for a $220,000 shortfall in the 2012 budget, threatening to file charges with the state attorney general over the matter.
Mayor Joseph Menza claimed Police Chief Robert Quinlan deliberately went over his $7.7 million annual budget for department salaries, but the attorney representing the police chief who has served the township for 34 years, 13 as police chief, said nothing could be further from the truth.
Quinlan’s attorney, Vito Gagliardi Jr., said the entire issue of the amount needed for the police department budget is a matter of collective bargaining and the police chief was not involved in any way with those negotiations.
Menza, though, said he warned Quinlan a few months ago that he was going over the budgeted amount for the year because of promotions and overtime.
“I told him before Sandy hit that if he continued the way he was going, he would be over budget,” the mayor said last week in an interview with LocalSource. In addition, he said he informed Quinlan that if the police chief needed more money in his budget, he would have to come before the counsel. But he never did, the mayor added.
Menza maintained that instead of looking for ways to cut his budget, Quinlan put seven police officers on acting assignments, which required an employee to be paid an increased salary after 15 days.
“Chief Quinlan never came to council about this and if I challenge him on it he’s going to say I can’t interfere with what he’s doing,” the mayor said.
Using Fire Chief Dominick Naples as an example, Menza pointed out that when the fire department head was going down the same road, the problem was quickly resolved.
“He took steps to ensure he was not over spending,” the mayor added, but he said Quinlan never took those same steps.
“I told him he wasn’t going to make payroll in December,” Menza said, adding that now that the township does not have a Chief Financial Officer, there is no one to make money transfers.
More importantly, Menza believes what the police chief did is a crime.
“This is a fourth degree crime if you deliberately overspend a budget,” the mayor said, specifically mentioning an article written by attorney Edward Kologi for the League of Municipalities that clarifies this particular crime.
In the article titled “The Criminal Consequences of Public Office, Don’t Cross the Line,” Kologi discusses precisely what constitutes criminal conduct by a public official or municipal, county or state official.
Kologi, who is considered a powerful Union County Democrat, cites numerous ways the law can be broken by officials and public employees, specifically N.J.S.A. 2C:30-4, or Disbursement of Money or Incurring Obligations by Public in Excess of Appropriations. This law involves a public official, Menza said, incurring obligations in excess of the appropriation and limit of expenditure provided by law for that item.
The mayor believes Quinlan broke that law and is “drawing up papers to submit to the State Attorney General’s Office.”
Menza also said he spoke with Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow about the problem last week to enquire if Quinlan was charged by the state if he had the right to suspend him.
“I’m between a rock and a hard place here, he’s a department head and he was allotted $7.7 million for salaries. If that isn’t enough, he needs to go to council and tell them that,” Menza said, adding “where do I get the money from, other accounts?”
“Why should I have to take money from another account or department budget when this was reckless and intentional?” he alleged.
The mayor said Quinlan attempted to reduce the bloated budget by offering $160,000 in police department forfeiture funds, but he said he has to keep those promotions in place,” Menza said, adding that forfeiture funds cannot be used for salaries.
Menza admitted that people will think “the mayor is fighting again,” but he said he refused to back down on this issue.
Although LocalSource spoke with Quinlan on Friday, he preferred that his attorney, Vito Gagliardi Jr., be contacted regarding this particular issue.
“Maybe the mayor is looking for a scapegoat,” Gagliardi said Monday evening, explaining that police department salaries involve a collective bargaining contract, which is handled between the township and police union.
“The chief of police is not a part of negotiations,” Quinlan’s attorney stressed.
The attorney pointed out that the law Menza cited also involves due diligence by a governing body. In fact, N.J.S.A. 2C30-4 specifically states that prior to voting, “a public official must be satisfied through appropriate information or documentation that funds are in fact available for such purpose.”
“The mayor is trying to shift some of the blame on a dedicated employee whose service to the community has been impeccable for 34 years,” Gagliardi said, adding the mayor’s behavior was “a disgrace.”
“That law also mentions that ‘a member of the governing body commits a crime of the fourth degree if he or she purposely or knowingly votes for the disbursement of public monies in excess of the appropriation for that particular item, or incurs obligations in excess of the appropriation and limit of expenditure provided by law for that item.’”
The attorney also pointed out that when the mayor put the 2012 budget together he never consulted Quinlan, or asked him what he would need for salaries and overtime.
“Last month when the mayor brought this issue to the police chief’s attention, the chief made suggestions and presented a proposal on how to correct the budget shortfall, but we never heard back,” Gagliardi said, adding “this was not the chief’s doing.”
Quinlan’s attorney said the mayor misled the offer of forfeiture funds, “because we specifically said it would be for overtime.”
“Besides, any forfeiture funds that were used has to be signed off by the prosecutor’s office anyway,” Gagliardi said.