HILLSIDE — Saying he was “sick of allegations by Mayor Joseph Menza that are entirely false,” the township’s top cop decided to retire after ten years leading the force and more than 30 years with the department.
“I’ve had quite enough,” Police Chief Robert Quinlan said in an interview Friday with LocalSource, two days after he handed in a resignation letter to clerk Diane Rowe, effective Feb. 1.
Despite the circumstances, the police chief has no regrets.
“I leave Hillside with with my head held high and proud of my achievements as a member of the Hillside Police Department and chief of police for 10 years,” Quinlan said quietly, adding that during his tenure he did his “level best to protect the people of Hillside.”
Quinlan and Menza have been battling for more than a year, ever since the police chief filed a multi-count lawsuit against the mayor.
The police chief said the case is about the mayor withholding his contractual benefits, but he preferred to not get into what that involved. He was, however, adamant about not dropping the ball on this legal matter.
“I don’t care how long it takes but I will have my day in court with Mayor Menza,” the police chief said, adding he was “looking forward to it.”
The lawsuit is now in the discovery phase.
Although the mayor and police chief had their battles during the three year period since Menza was elected mayor, things heated up in December when the two disagreed about excessive overtime and promotions made by Quinlan.
Menza said he was forced to file a complaint with the Union County Prosecutors Office for what he claimed was “Quinlan’s unnecessary and deliberate overspending on overtime and promotions.”
The mayor claimed the police chief overspent on the $7.7 million departmental budget by $250,000 and despite repeated warnings, failed to do anything about the problem.
Quinlan said the mayor has his facts mixed up.
“He left me no choice,” the police chief said Friday, pointing out that since Menza was elected mayor three years ago, the number of police officers went from 77 to 67, leaving him little choice but to resort to using overtime to supplement shifts.
“When he refused to hire replacements for retiring officers, that left me no other recourse,” the chief said.
Quinlan said police departments cannot deny police officers vacation or sick time because he is bound by union contracts.
“What am I supposed to do for police officers then? I have no other choice but to call in off duty police officers on overtime. It’s either that or not have any police on the streets,” the police chief added.
Menza, however, has continued to point out that the police department had too much staff in the past. In fact, in March 2011 the mayor planned on laying off 49 employees, five of which were police officers, but the council ended up suing the mayor in order to stop that move. A Superior Court Judge agreed with the governing body, saying Menza was not empowered to initiate layoffs.
While that legal siege was going on, township firefighters, department of public works employees and clerical workers agreed to give back a 4 percent raise and contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries towards their health benefits.
The township still had to lay off seven employees, slashing $900,000 from the budget, but that was just the beginning of problems that continued to fester.
In June 2011, Menza planned on laying off police officers but that never happened because of an 11th hour concession with the union. As a result, the township kept five officers and two K9’s.
Quinlan said it has been like this since Menza was elected mayor and he “just got sick of it.”
“This township requires a highly visible police presence and a strong police department,” Quinlan said, adding that with Hillside bordering high crime areas of Newark, Elizabeth and Irvington, the township has to have enough police officers on the force and streets.
“Even though the department was reduced by ten officers we still have to protect the township. We still have a job to do,” he added, noting he has to comply with civil service rules and collective bargaining agreements.
Menza, on the other hand, went public with his gripes, telling the press Quinlan promoted six officers in the fall, which cost the township an additional $75,000. The mayor also said Hillside had enough police officers on the force to do the job that is needed to be done, insisting if more officers were not behind desks and on the street, there would not be a need for overtime.
Quinlan, though, disagreed, maintaining that every promotion he made was “vitally necessary to the operation and supervision of the police department.”
Quinlan’s attorney Damian Shammas maintained that Menza has a “continued pattern of bullying, intimidation and retaliation” against the police chief, but Menza believes he is justified in what he has done and will inform the attorney general of his concerns.
The police chief, on the other hand, made it clear he was not shying away from any investigation by the prosecutor’s office, attorney general, FBI or anyone else.
“I welcome an honest, objective investigation and I always have,” Quinlan
said, adding that the last thing he wanted to do was retire.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m at peace with my decision,” the police chief added.
Looking back at the ten years he spent as police chief, Quinlan modestly pointed to several achievements he was especially proud to see come to fruition. One was the creation of the canine unit, manned by two police officers and two specially trained dogs.
“I’m very proud of this accomplishment,” the police chief said, bringing up another move that has continued to reap financial rewards for the township.
Several years ago Quinlan assigned a Hillside detective to the IRS to be part of a anti-money laundering task force.
“We were fortunate to be able to do this and it has paid off because any forfeiture funds are spilt among the members of the unit and we get a portion of that money,” the police chief said.
So far, Quinlan said, not only have taxpayers saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Hillside received over $1 million as a result of this one detective working with the IRS Task Force.
The police chief said he used the money to buy police cars, equipment and also send officers for additional training. He is also proud of the fact that he appointed the first female detective in the history of the township, Lashonda Borgess.
Quinlan grew up on Williamson Avenue, went through the Hillside school system and graduated in 1976. He went on to graduate from Union College in 1978 and took on a job in the Union County Sheriff’s office.
“I realized my lifelong dream in 1979 when I was appointed to the Hillside Police Department by former Chief George Shelbourne,” Quinlan said, mentioning that he graduated number one in his class at the Union County Police Training Academy.
Thinking back over his 39-year career, Quinlan recalled graduating from the police academy in 1979, just a few days after Hillside police Officer Anthony Lordi was shot and killed in Gino’s Restaurant.
“I am the last member of the Hillside police department to have served with Officer Lordi,” Quinlan said, adding quietly that the force dedicated a memorial to this officer outside headquarters in 2009.
In parting, the police chief wished residents of Hillside “years of health and happiness.”
“I’m at peace with my decision,” Quinlan added.