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Bergen sheriff’s union chief blasts Donovan, demands apology

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

AN OFFICER WRITES: As president of PBA Local 134, I once again find myself in the unfortunate position of having to address yet another barrage of insults, misrepresentations, and outright lies directed at the men and women of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office by County Executive Kathleen Donovan.

PBA Local 134 President Edward Brunner, Bergen County Sheriff’s Office

In her August 17, 2012 press release, Ms. Donovan asserts that the Sheriff’s Office operates in a “political environment,” not a professional one.

To the contrary, in Bergen County I can assure you the duties carried out by our sworn staff are done so in a strictly professional environment. Our sworn officers are hired and promoted like many other law enforcement officers throughout New Jersey: through the New Jersey Civil Service Merit System.

The ranks of our agency are filled with a diverse cross-section of individuals from our communities – dozens of military veterans, college graduates, officers with post-graduate degrees, and even two (2) Corrections supervisors with law degrees. We pride ourselves on being professionals, not political “hacks.”

Although the Sheriff is an elected position, the day-to-day operations of our agency are handled by our career people. For Ms. Donovan to state that our agency operates in a political environment rather than a professional one is not only inaccurate but utterly insulting to our staff members. I am demanding that she issue a public apology to our agency.

As a career politician with not one day of law enforcement experience, what qualifies Ms. Donovan to state that the Sheriff’s Office is “not a police organization” and “does not provide or perform policing functions”? Even though our Sheriff’s Officers complete the same basic training as police officers and possess the same law enforcement powers, Ms. Donovan somehow has our duties relegated to the “jail, courthouse, and process serving.”

Perhaps Ms. Donovan should re-visit our departmental website to see the multitude of police services that we provide to the community and to local police departments.

For example, our Detective Unit makes thousands of arrests each year, executing a variety of warrants, ranging from child support absconders to dangerous wanted felons. Our Crime Scene Unit processed over 2000 crime scenes last year, identifying, collecting, and analyzing forensic evidence that is critical for the identification and prosecution of those committing crimes in Bergen County and against our residents.

Our Ballistics Unit’s experts process hundreds of cases each year on firearms and weapons related crimes, which again is crucial in the identification and prosecution of criminal offenders.

The Sheriff’s Office maintains several K-9 teams to assist the BCSO and law enforcement agencies throughout both the county and the entire state. Canine skills include explosives, narcotics, criminal apprehension, evidence search, tracking, tobacco detection, cell phone detection, and cadaver location and recovery.

It should be noted that there are only three police trained and certified cadaver canines in the state of New Jersey and our agency retains two of them. Our calls for K-9 assistance from municipal police agencies have more than doubled in recent years and we attribute that to the broad range of services that we can provide.

The Corrections Division is tasked with maintaining 24-hour safety and security for the inmates housed at the Bergen County Jail, as well as for the civilian and sworn staff. The Bergen County Jail is an accredited facility, of which many other correctional facilities endeavor to be.

I am quite confident that the “taxpayers, families and seniors” who she repeatedly reminds us have elected her (i.e., the same people who elected the Sheriff), would most certainly see these as critical “policing functions.”

I would also encourage Ms. Donovan to check with the N.J. Civil Service Commission to see exactly what job duties Sheriff’s Officers and Corrections Officers are capable of performing. Ms. Donovan’s attempt at diminishing our role in the law enforcement community is reprehensible.

Our department’s record on fiscal responsibility speaks for itself; a historic $1.7 million budget cut and unprecedented $626,000 overtime cut in 2011. No agency in county government came close to these numbers.

The modest and fair collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the Sheriff and PBA Local 134 will NOT amount to anywhere near the “$10 million in taxpayer dollars,” that Ms. Donovan would have you believe. This is as ridiculous as her initial claim of “$30 million in cuts” to her 2011 budget. As we all recall, that actually only turned out to be, embarrassingly, a $75,000 cut to a half-billion-dollar budget. (The Record, 04/01/2011).

Our contract negotiations with the Sheriff were done in accordance with decades of past practice, fully supported by case law, affirmed by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), and approved by a bipartisan Freeholder Board vote.

In spite of all this, she has refused to acknowledge our contract for the past (8) months, which has left us no choice but to file a lawsuit against her.

Worse yet, Ms. Donovan continues to antagonize our officers by purposely withholding contractual stipends for uniform allowance, and even nominal educational stipends for those officers who have worked hard to earn undergraduate, graduate, and law degrees.

Ms. Donovan stated she was elected to “weed out fraud, waste and abuse while fighting political cronyism and stupidity everywhere I find it.” That is a great mantra, but she should start with her own office!

Regardless of political party, recent history in the county executive form of government – in Bergen, as well as other counties – has shown that this position does little more than create a political atmosphere that is rife with cronyism, waste, and abuse of power. Most counties in New Jersey opt to use a County Administrator (which Bergen also has) and Freeholder Board.

Bergen has the additional and redundant post of County Executive, who, for some reason, also requires a Chief-of-Staff, Deputy Chiefs-of-Staff, Executive Assistants, and Office Director, among other staffers. Their salaries and benefit packages alone cost taxpayers over $1 million annually.

In Ms. Donovan’s case, the substantial additional costs of the growing list of lawsuits filed against her, prompted by her own omnipotence, bully tactics, and abuse of authority, will also be incurred by Bergen taxpayers.

Any of her “budget cuts” will no doubt be massively eclipsed by the cost of these lawsuits.

Bergen is one of only 5 of New Jersey’s 21 counties that utilize the optional elected county executive form of government. I urge taxpayers to view Ms. Donovan’s Facebook page and see her travel from parades, to pancake breakfasts, to ribbon cutting ceremonies, chauffeured in a county vehicle at taxpayer expense, and all while the County Administrator presumably carries out the duties of the Executive Branch.

This is an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars. Ms. Donovan complains of waste and having too many “freaking layers of government,” but she and her office are clearly part of the problem.

Bergen County voters and taxpayers should strongly consider the elimination of the redundant post of Bergen County Executive. This post — only 25 years old in Bergen County — should be considered a governing experiment that did not work, as evidenced by our outrageous rise in property taxes since the inception of this optional form of county government.

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