By Frank Capece
They had a contentious town meeting in Cranford last week regarding the status of Chief of Police Eric Mason and others caught up in the swirl of vacant positions in the local government. Once community leader Jerry Dobbins peppered questions over the acting positions of township administrator, chief financial officer and reports of dismal morale in the police department, the simmering controversy of the past year came to a head.
First, a little background. With a vacancy in the Office of Township Administrator, Mason was given the title of acting administrator along with being the chief of police.
While it has never been clear exactly what Mason’s educational background or qualifications were, the five commissioners seemed pretty satisfied with his performance. The grand plan was to permit Mason to ease into the administrator’s slot, and also collect a sizable pension as a retired chief. Intervening forces had another plan.
How the Township would ever expect the Public Employment Retirement System, to bless such a move after the statements by Gov. Chris Christie on double dipping pensions was perplexing. Also, the change in government, with control switching back to the Democrats in January, hadn’t been part of Mason’s grand plan. It was announced that Mason would go back to just being chief and a search for a new administrator had already begun.
When the reality set in that PERS wasn’t going to bless the scheme, the choice of James Wozniak as the succeeding chief — never a Mason favorite — evaporated. And then, some bizarre things started happening.
Insiders in the department say Mason became more antagonistic than normal. Never seen as a folksy type, Mason, his two direct subordinates and the internal affairs boys went into a bunker mentality. In the end, Mason stays as tough-guy chief, his supportive underlining’s were given new fancy titles, and Wozniak was left out to dry.
Dobbins, none too happy with the chain of events, voiced his concerns, challenging the governing body and specifically Police Commissioner Lisa Adubato, to “do the right thing” and give a promotion to Wozniak.
Adubato at her patronizing best spoke of personnel matters not subject to public discussion. Strangely, some would say absurd, it was her legal view and she was sticking to it. She conveniently added that during her commissioner’s comments she would have more to say. The convenience to Adubato is that commissioner comments come at the end of a meeting, thus eliminating any dialogue or need to respond to queries from pesky citizens worried about the police department.
Adubato and other commissioners spoke vaguely about “not being happy” with the chain of events. Presumably that included two wasted interviews for a new chief, a failure to appoint the critical position of chief financial officer, and the real concern over the morale, among the rank and file cops.
Whatever you may think of Mason, you do have to give him points for consistency. Despite the rather direct criticism of his police department, as in the past when asked if he had any comments, his consistent answer of “no report” was given. It should be noted that during the concern over the department, raised by a number of citizens, he did at one point whip off his glasses.
For Adubato, she weathered the criticism of her stone walling by taking copious notes.
It was left to Mayor David Robinson to shed a little light on the township’s dilemma by stating ever so politely that chiefs of police have strong tenure protection. He should have elaborated, that during the Byrne Administration, the chief’s bill of rights act was passed. In the name of eliminating political interference, absence, some pretty big incompetence, Cranford will be seeing Eric Mason around for a long time.
LocalSource quoted County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow, including his support for Mason calling him a “cop’s cop.” Of course that leaves the question that when it came to manipulating the PERS system, why didn’t Mason contact one of the best pension manipulators, his supporter Romankow, for advice.
In a devastating editorial a few years ago, the Trenton Times criticized the “maneuvering” by Romankow, which saw special legislation pushed to jack up Romankow’s retirement pension to a staggering $100,000 a year. The Times described Romankow’s scheme as one that “epitomizes the privilege, cronyism and gamesmanship that disgusts ordinary citizens and mocks the concept of public service.”
In other action, the township officials announced that they were moving yet again to see if the township wanted a charter study to have an elected mayor and less elections to bring a more responsive government to Cranford. Poor Commissioner Kevin Campbell. He made intelligent arguments that no change was warranted. Heck, all the proponents of the change have to do is show tape of the arrogance of Adubato and the lack of response by Mason. The proposal would pass in a landslide.