Monday, October 28, 2019

October 23, 2019 Community Gathering Speech

          This past Monday afternoon I sat staring off and pondering what the community has been through over the past couple of weeks.  I try to think from the perspective of a resident, but it is difficult from my vantage point as the municipal manager for the Township.  I am stuck having more information than most on these issues, and I lose the perspective of a resident who is busy with work, family and the daily personal challenges that compete for your thoughts from day to day, hour to hour or minute to minute.  But I know that when you heard about the incident that occurred on Friday evening at the high school, it stopped most of you in tracks.  It jarred your sense community; your sense of peace; it caused you to feel a range of emotions that included anger, outrage, sadness, frustration and hopelessness.  It is what I felt. 

          It was at that moment I just wanted to do something.  I wanted as many of us as possible who call Lawrence Township our home to gather together.  To see each other.  To unify and make a singular statement, just by coming here together, that says we reject hatred, we reject racism and bigotry in all forms.  By being here together tonight, by looking into each other’s eyes, I hope that we see goodness in each other.  We are here because we care.  We care for one another, and for the young girls who were victimized by racist and despicable acts this past Friday night.  And we care enough to act to make things better.

          Nelson Mandella said the following:  No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion.  People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.   

          I stand here not as a government official, but as someone who was raised in this community;  Who calls this community home;  Who is proud of this community;  And who understands that it is our diversity that just makes us better. 

          I have heard these last couple of days from many people that what happened on Friday night is not “our community.”  It’s not who we are.  But truth be told, for those young girls on that night it was their “community” and we need to own it as ours despite how uncomfortable it may make us feel.  We cannot forget or dismiss this. We must respond.  We can’t go back in time, we can only move forward.

           I am neither the race, age or gender of the victims last Friday.…and I cannot and will not say I understand how the hateful words and acts against them made them feel or what it feels like to be victimized by racism and hatred.  But as a resident of this community, I can be angry and outraged….and want better for everyone.  I know you all feel this way.  I can see it your faces.  I feel it by your presence here tonight. 

          So what we can do is for each of us take some personal responsibility to make change.   To act out of love for all, out of respect for all.  To call out racism and bigotry when you see it.  Teach your children to reject it completely and publicly.  Feel empathy and compassion for those that must live it every day in big ways and small ways….and if we each can do this, if we pledge to do this…...just maybe over time things will change. 

          I will end my remarks with this by a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness; Only light can do that.   (candle lighting ceremony).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Police Officers' Lawsuit against the Township and the Chief of Police.

The Police Officers' Lawsuit….

                As you all know, I have made efforts to connect with residents through social media.  So you know me and I get to know you…a little better.  I often post about positive things happening in town to let you know that the good people who work for the municipality are doing good work.  By establishing a presence on social media, I believe it would be hypocritical of me to now not comment on what many of you have read in the Trentonian today.  Given that it is a pending lawsuit, there are things I cannot say or should not say, but I will share my thoughts and opinions with you, as much as I can, because you may want to know what I think, and Chief Caloiaro deserves a fair representation of the facts and circumstances to be made public. 

                First and foremost, I appreciate and have nothing but respect for all of you that have the wisdom and understanding to not form an opinion based upon allegations.  People tend to think that a lawsuit somehow has merit because it exists.  It doesn’t.  For the cost of $400, ANYONE and I mean ANYONE can (and often do) file a law suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey.  The Clerk of the Court simply stamps the complaint “FILED” with absolutely no review of the truthfulness or accuracy of the allegations contained in it.  So please do not be impressed that a civil action exists.  Nor be impressed that the Trentonian made it a front page article.

                The Trentonian article stated that the PBA Local 119 and the Township have been in negotiations for a new contract.  That is true.  During the negotiation period the PBA fired its attorney and hired another one.  This attorney, as facts will have it, is the very same attorney that prepared and filed this lawsuit against the Township on behalf of PBA members.  The very same.

                What many in the public don’t know is that our Police Department is very different than almost all others because we have 2 active police unions, the PBA and the FOP.  Recently, the PBA took over control of the bargaining power on behalf of the rank and file membership but the FOP remains the bargaining unit for the Superior officers of our Police Department.  Let that settle in for a moment….  Think about the type of environment this could and does create.  Complaints are frequently filed against each other that require the Mercer County Prosecutor to investigate and handle since these complaints can’t be handled within the department for obvious reasons.  There are more than a few currently being handled at this time.

                The law in the State of New Jersey is that it is illegal for police officers to strike.  It’s a good law for good reasons.  But the consequence to this law is that when rank and file membership become unhappy about how things are handled by the superior officers or, let’s say, a manager that does not offer them the money they want in their new contract, what they always have at their discretion is to put their uniform on, wear the badge, attend roll call…and then sit in their patrol cars all day and not do proactive traffic enforcement.  Traffic enforcement that is designed NOT to create revenue but to keep our streets safe. Safe from speeders, erratic drivers, drunk drivers.  (How many of you have taken the time out of your day to call me to complain about speeders down your streets and never seeing a police car anywhere?)  But by coming to work each day, a profession that required them to put their hand on a bible (often held by a family member) to swear an oath to protect and to serve, they get paid….from taxpayer money.  

                If you read about quotas in the newspaper.  That is accurate.  The Attorney General for the State of New Jersey issued long ago that requiring police officers to meet quotas is illegal.  It’s a good law.  It makes sense.  But how do you supervise or manage a police officers that come to work each day, sit in their patrol car and do no traffic enforcement while cars speed by, people unsafely hold cell phones, or drivers drive drunk?  If you mention the lack of productivity and the lack of work being done, what do you think the response is?  Yes, a grievance is filed that they are being made to stop vehicles and to meet a quota.  You ask, why can’t you just suspend or fire officers that are clearly not performing their job?  Because you can’t!!!  They are protected by Civil Service and their union.  Statistical evidence will make this very clear. This concerned me so much here that I contacted the NJ Attorney General's office several weeks ago to discuss what can be done about getting our officers back doing their job.

                When I took over this position in 2017, I honestly had no idea about what was really going on at the Police Department.  It didn’t compute to me that a police officer would simply stop performing his/her duty because they objected to Chief Mark Ubry’s style and actions as their chief at that time.  It became clear though fairly quickly.   From a non-economic perspective, it means the streets in our community are less safe.   From an economic perspective, it means that officers are being paid and not performing.  The Judge, Court Administrator, the Deputy Court administrator, the staff and security guards are all being paid but doing dramatically less work.  This is taxpayer money being wasted, and it’s unacceptable.

                One thing you can do as a test to judge whether the allegations are true or not, is to listen to the municipal council meeting recordings for February 5, 2019 and February 19, 2019[1].  These are budget discussions.  Listen to what was actually said and how it was said.  This is NOT about revenue to get our grubby hands on.  It’s about being able to craft a responsible budget.  One that is accurate.  You can’t do that if you don’t discuss and determine and forecast what revenues will be realized in the coming budget year.  I believe these Plaintiffs, in this complaint, do a disservice to our elected officials and our municipal judge by presenting facts in the way they have in the complaint.  Listen to the tapes…read the complaint.  Listen to the tapes….read the complaint. 

                As an example, let’s take Paragraph 20 on Page 5 where the Plaintiffs state the following:

                “During the budget meetings of the governing body of Defendant…., the council openly discussed how Municipal Court revenue increased and that the increase was due to pressure put on the Police Department by Chief Caloiaro.”  I listened to the tape….I didn't hear anything close to that.  The fact is that the Municipal Court revenue was dramatically down, and that presents an issue for budgeting reasons.   The shortfall in revenue from any source in our municipal budget is a legitimate concern to discuss “openly” in order to plan for a budget in the coming year.  This is how responsible government works.  Listen to the tape.

                Or in Paragraph 22 on Page 5 where the Plaintiffs allege the following:

                “…During his presentation, Judge Korngut addressed how he believed some decrease in Municipal Court revenue in 2018 was an “aberrational year” and the future of the Lawrence Court system was on an “upswing” back to levels they’ve seen in 2017.”  I believe proper context would be that the police officers stopped active traffic enforcement during Chief Mark Ubry’s time because they were displeased with him and the environment he had created. 

                Let’s look at Par. 71 through 81 concerning Sgt. Stein:  It states,

                "72.  In October of 2018, Sgt. Stein and his squad met at a Wawa to discuss patrol responsibilities for the shift.  The meeting discussed materials usually covered in a briefing.  Instead of a briefing in the department, the Officers decided to be a presence in the community while covering their shift responsibilities.”  I will wait a couple moments while you let this sink in.  Late at night, the Sgt. and his unit met a Wawa instead of in the Police Department before their shift starts.  How would you feel, as a resident taxpayer if you saw 4-5 police officers congregating at the Wawa, probably drinking coffee and talking?  I am told that some residents even called to complain about this.  

                As for the allegation that the storage unit in the back of the Police Department is designed for creating revenue.  Well that’s true to a degree.  When a police officer stops a motor vehicle and the vehicle is not registered or the registration is suspended, the police officer is REQUIRED to impound the vehicle.  There is no discretion.  This happens often times when a vehicle is stopped for a moving violation and further investigation reveals the vehicle is not registered or the registration is suspended.   Not surprisingly, impound revenues is down dramatically because…wait for it…..there are dramatically less motor vehicle stops. 

                It is my understanding that several years ago, Chief Mark Ubry came up with the idea to create a small impound yard behind the police department.  This would keep the impounded vehicles on police grounds, make an easier process for retrieval from the owner and create revenue for the municipality instead of privately owned storage lots.   Residents demand that municipal officials find creative ways to keep taxes down, this was an example of that.   Despite the suggestion that the officers have discretion to impound or not impound, it is not true by law.

                I could go on but I shouldn’t.  I speak honestly and openly to you all on all things and I cannot be silent now.   Some will say I am being unprofessional doing this.  I believe Chief Caloiaro is a good, honest hard working and dedicated police chief.  I believe he is undeserving of this.   If I believed the Plaintiffs, our officers, or that there was even close to the truth about these allegations, my actions would be swift on their behalf.  I hate the fact that I am writing this article.  I hate having been put in this position.   There are many good police officers on our force for sure.  They honor their oath and serve the community.  I am grateful to work with them.   But in my opinion there are some that have followed the lead of a few and have gone astray of their oath, and that’s a shame.    I hope that all of you do not rush to judgment on this lawsuit.  If you care about it, take the time to become knowledgeable about it.  Follow it through the court system to the end.  The Township will defend this civil action because in my opinion it is without merit.  I communicate this way by choice because I think it makes for more transparency.  However,  I will refrain from commenting any further on social media about this issue.  

POST SCRIPT (a simple fact that I thought important to share regarding an allegation in the complaint):  

           One of the allegations contained in the complaint is that the Municipality has an ATM positioned in the Court and Police lobby, and that Municipality is making money on its use.  I direct you to Par. 32 of the complaint where it says the following:

"32.  As the police department only takes cash or money orders, often times they force motorists to use an ATM machine in the lobby of the building.  The ATM machine has a limit of $200 per transaction.  The ATM collects a fee per transaction which pays additional money to the Municipality.  Therefore, in order for a motorist to get their vehicle back when he/she pays cash, the motorist has to use the ATM machine twice and pay two fees for the use of the ATM before they have enough cash to pay for the impound fee."

           When you read that in the complaint, how many of you were outraged?  How many couldn't believe that your Town would be so low to do such a thing?  Well, the truth is that Lawrence Township does not make a single penny on that ATM machine.  It was installed at the request of Chief Mark Ubry because he felt that it would offer more convenience to those that needed money while doing court or police business.  The transaction fee ($3.00) goes to the ATM owner.....NOT TO THE TOWNSHIP.   Do you know how simple it is to verify this fact?  All that you would have to do is to send an email to me, the clerk or our CFO and ask, "How much revenue is received by the Township for the ATM machine at the Court and Police Building annually?  We would all provide an answer: $0.00.  If you wanted to be more formal, you can file an OPRA request (Open Public Records Act) which you can do online and by email to our Clerk.  This was NOT done by the Plaintiffs or their attorney in this case.  Yet, so many of you believed the complaint on its face.  I have the emails and comments to me letting me know how awful we are.  This is something to think about when you wonder about this matter.

[1] You may contact the Municipal Clerk in advance to arrange to listen to the recordings.  Please do not just walk in as preparations have to be made to accommodate you.  

My Deepest Apologies to Rich and Frankie and their families.

On the front page of the Trentonian newspaper today there was an extremely odd and poorly written article that was intended solely to dispar...