HILLSIDE, NJ — Although current Hillside acting Chief of Police Louis Panarese was recently reinstated to his former position by order of Judge Karen Cassidy in superior court, Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson has written a letter to Cassidy asking her to reconsider her decision.
Garretson told LocalSource that she believes that her lawsuit against the Hillside town council and Panarese is warranted. “I am fighting against the council violating the Faulkner Act, the Open Public Meeting Act and the Civil Service Act,” said Garretson in an email, referring to the council’s decision to overturn her demotion of Panarese from chief to captain back in April. “The council did not have the authority to remove my rightly appointed Chief Floyd and install Panarese. The order clearly states Richard Floyd will remain in that position until retirement. It also stated Panarese is prohibited from assuming acting provisional chief until Floyd’s retirement in spite of the council’s attempt to install him immediately by resolution. I took this matter before the court to address the issues of law that were violated. I have no problem working with Panarese in the future, but as long as Floyd is a member of the HPD he will be the chief. Panarese is the senior captain and would be in charge anyway, if Floyd were absent or retired.”
Attorney for Garretson, Genia Philip, wrote a letter to Cassidy on Garretson’s behalf, requesting that Cassidy reconsider her decision to reinstate Panarese provisionally. The letter, given to Cassidy after the hearing, stated that they disagreed with the decision. According to Philip, having Panarese reinstated as provisional chief was the very act that Garretson opposed, thus making Garretson’s court action — and the outcome of the hearing — of little consequence.
As an alternative, Philip suggests in the letter, Panarese should be named Senior Officer in General Command. During this time, Philip suggests, the township would complete all of its civil service requirements in order to permanently hire a police chief. Philip states that it was Garretson’s understanding that Panarese was reinstated because there was no acceptable alternative to the reinstatement at the time of the hearing, but that now an alternative option to Cassidy’s order was being offered in the letter.
The letter also notes that the department currently has two police captains, and that the Civil Service Commission allows the appointing authority — Garretson — to open the pool to additional ranks in order to select a provisional chief.
Garretson explained in an email to LocalSource her reason for sending the letter. “Judge Cassidy’s letter I sent was to reinstate my reason as the appointing authority, “ said Garretson. “He remains the senior officer in charge and/or provisional acting chief rather than assuming the permeant appointed chief. The process shall continue to identify candidates for the upcoming test and I have opened the opportunity up to captains and lieutenants,” she said in regard to Panarese’s position.
Garretson shared an email with LocalSource — that she sent to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission and dated March 17 — in which she states that she was “requesting a waiver for inclusion of Captains and the title of Police Lieutenants.”
Garretson said that Cassidy’s order is clear, citing segments of the order that stated the council is “‘enjoined from engaging or doing any acts or practices in furtherance of any violation of the Faulkner Act.’ The court did not order me to do anything,” said Garretson in an email. “They ordered council to provide an OPRA request. Floyd remained provisional until his retirement as well.”
Hillside Business Administrator Dwayne Warren told LocalSource in a phone conversation that Cassidy’s decision was a victory for Garretson. “The court agreed with the mayor that she can remove the director, but her decision to have Panarese return was because Panarese was the highest ranking person, so he is in by default.”
Warren said that the judge has not yet issued her final decision about whether the mayor has to make her decision with advice from council.
Garretson also noted in her email that Panarese was prohibited from assuming the position of chief, and that Panarese is now the senior officer in charge and has returned. “As mayor, I took the council to court to address the repeated disregard to my authority.” She said their actions “can
no longer be tolerated, and the judge upheld my concerns,” said Garretson. “I want to make sure that people do not work outside their scope. This has been an issue from day one.”
According to Garretson, she and Panarese have already met three times since the court hearing, and those meetings went well. “Once the council removes themselves from usurping my authority, Hillside will be able to do what it was meant to do,” said Garretson in a phone call.
Cassidy has asked for a mediation conference between Garretson and Panarese, according to Garretson, who said she is more than happy to attend those meetings.
Garretson said that she and Panarese have been working well together, as shown by the recent Hillside H.O.M.E. music festival, where she, the Hillside Police Department, Hillside Fire Department and others worked together to make it what she believes was one of the most successful events in Hillside’s history. “Panarese and I are cohesive, and I’m sure he would agree,” said Garretson in a phone call.
Panarese returned to work on Aug. 1.