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NJ appeals court tells Donovan to pay sheriff’s officers, sides with her in 2 other cases

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

A New Jersey appeals court today ordered Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan to implement the 2011 and 2012 pay raises to Bergen County Sheriff’s officers that she thus far has denied.

In a trio of rulings, two of which favored the county executive, the state Appellate Division said only Sheriff Michael Saudino — and not Donovan — can negotiate contracts with his officers.

This directly rejects the county executive’s argument that she should have had a seat at the bargaining table with PBA Local 134, which represents more than 400 sheriff’s officers.

This frees what Donovan said is more than $10.5 million in raises for the department over a four-year span in a new contract that was negotiated by Sheriff Michael Saudino with Local 134. Saudino said the total is about a fifth of that when retirements and attrition are factored in.

Attorneys for Donovan argued that the executive, along with the sheriff is a joint employer of his employees, which thereby gives her the right to “negotiate contracts for the county subject to [freeholder] board approval; make recommendations concerning the nature and location of county improvements and execute improvements determined by the board…,” under a state court ruling.

Local 134 and Saudino, however, pointed to a statute approved by lawmakers in Trenton that applies to public contracts. As an elected official who commands an office, and not an appointed department head who must answer to the executive, the sheriff has the authority to set salaries, they argued.

The appeals panel today also sided with Donovan in two other suits.

In one, it said, she has the right to appoint a county auditor. However, the judges said Donovan can’t designate the county administrator or other appointee to represent her at freeholder meetings.

In the other ruling, the appeals judges said that an appeal by the county freeholders to allow them to ask voters whether the Bergen County County Police Department should be disbanded is moot because no referendum was ever held — and the board didn’t approve the plan.

The freeholders were going to put the non-binding referendum before voters in November 2012. But Donovan blocked the move in the courts.

The board then appealed, but the higher court said it need not rule, given the outcome.

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