An Overtime Smoking Gun & Different Viewpoints. Public Safety Director Vote in Brigantine

Vote yes or no on the Public Safety Director issue? Does city employee overtime need an overhaul? Who should manage stuff like that? Read statements from the Mayor, Councilman Pullella & the Democrats, Fire Department rep; Tiger Platt, Concerned Citizens for Brigantine, and the Taxpayers Association….and of course….our 2 cents on the matter.

Mayor Phil Guenther Alleged Mismanagement.

Like most contentious issues in Brigantine…passion, fury and piles of bovine excrement abound. This time, it’s the heated Public Safety Director debate featuring a recently revealed ‘smoking gun’. More on that later.

On Tuesday, May 13, a small handful of voters will decide two things: the future of Dan Howard and his interim Public Safety Director job, and whether we should abolish the occasionally quite useful; PSD position from the city charter. This fact should cause every taxpayer to pause and reflect before they vote on Tuesday.

Brigantine City Employees Disrespect Taxpayers

The Public Safety Director position in Brigantine has been embraced & supported for many years. Those years included police officer; Jim Barber’s 7 year run as a hybrid City Manager / Public Safety Director. He was compensated for both duties.

We have many points of view: Mayor Phil Guenther, The Brigantine Democrats & the Brigantine Taxpayers Association and others.

But first, a little background from our perspective.

Most following this issue struggle to keep up with the facts, rhetoric, threats and demands.

We think the election simply boils down to these 2 choices:

CHOICE #1:  Public Safety Departments set their own employment, position and compensation rules with no city oversight

CHOICE #2:  Public Safety Departments adopt commonly accepted, municipal best practices with appropriate city oversight

Ironically, no matter what the outcome is from Tuesday’s vote, we think the sniping & legal threats will only accelerate. The city manager will likely not embrace the city union’s preference for ‘next in line’ promotions. (We’re also still trying to figure out why we need 3 freekin’ polling locations. But that’s another story for another day)

A bombshell revelation was shared with Council on May 7. This should make voters think long and hard before they cast their vote.

THE SMOKING GUN. Brigantine taxpayers seem to be funding a virtual blank check for overtime. A bombshell revelation was shared at the Council meeting on May 7th. WATCH VIDEO BELOW. This should make everyone think long and hard before they cast their vote.

Destined to be a classic Brigantine WTF moment, the mayor claimed shock and surprise that a February 19 ruling took critical financial oversight out of the hands of the city manager, and kept it firmly in the hands of those who might have been a bit too aggressive in tapping our city piggy bank. Both local papers lost massive credibility by deciding not to cover that bombshell of a revelation.

No one disputes that Brigantine has some of the best and most professional public employees anywhere. But a growing number of residents wonder if a few bad apples with poor math skills and bad memory continue to embrace Greenhead Politics inside Brigantine City Hall.

“Smoking Gun explained by Abbott and Costello”

Phil Guenther OK with Overtime Abuse?

When vacancies occurred in the position of chiefs in the three public safety departments last year, the City manager first made attempts to fill them in-house. These weren’t successful. To fill this void with administrative leadership she hired an interim Director of Public Safety. This director is a civilian administrator who can set policy and the budget, but does not, by state statute, perform any law enforcement functions. Brigantine’s interim Director of Public Safety earns $70,000. on an annual basis, receives no benefits, and has done a good job.

The manager, under Brigantine’s council/manager form of government, its responsibilities etc. set by state statute, was chosen unanimously by vote of City council. He or she hires, fi res and negotiates union contracts. Brigantine’s manager, Ms. Blumenthal, has our support for determining and providing necessary cost-effective leadership in the public safety departments whether with chiefs or a director.

Both council and the manager have stated that their preference is to have chiefs. They and we do not support having both the chief and director positions filled on a permanent basis at the same time. An interim appointment is not a commitment for a permanent job.

The City manager and council have repeatedly emphasized that a chief must not only have the required departmental qualifications, this person must also be able to be a professional partner in municipal administration with a perspective and attitude broad enough to encompass the best interests of the whole community, not just those of a particular department.

This person must be willing to adapt and change, knowing that the status quo is not sustainable. So far, the manager has not found anyone to meet this additional requirement.

With the passage of the 2014 salary ordinance, the majority on council listed certain positions to provide for flexibility, choice and the opportunity to cut costs in its decisions regarding employment. One of these choices is an interim director. Having this management tool offers the manager flexibility, particularly when time, cost and suitability are factors to be considered.

Having a listed position doesn’t mean that it has to be filled. It simply allows it to be filled if and when needed.

The City has had the position of director along with chiefs for decades. The previous City manager was also a Director of Public Safety. This position was challenged by taxpayers, but the previous majority party didn’t think it necessary to remove it.

Now that the election is about to take place, with the possibility of a “yes’ vote, the City manager is starting the official process, interviewing those who present themselves as candidates and evaluating their qualifications, of filling the chiefs’ positions in order to be prepared for just such an outcome. If the “yes” vote wins and the Director’s position is eliminated, the manager must make appointments regardless of suitability. Flexibility and choice will no longer be available to the City manager in this essential decision.

Who benefits under these circumstances? Not the taxpayers!

If an appointee as chief doesn’t perform up to a standard, the municipality would have difficulty replacing said appointee. That’s not true with a director. In addition to professional competence, we should expect a qualified appointee to stay in the job and provide continuity for the department and the administration.

Overall, there is the consideration of the cost of different positions which affects all aspects of municipal government and our property taxes.

The Brigantine Taxpayers Association’s position is this: an acceptable level of public safety with an affordable cost to the taxpayers.

We believe the better choice is NO and urge voters to vote NO on Tuesday, May 13.

Brigantine Taxpayers Association

Mayor’s View > The events of the last ten months since the appointment of an “interim”  public safety director have made it abundantly clear that this position should be removed from the City Code by the voters on May 13. The rationale for this position, offered by the Democrat majority on Council and the city manager, has been extremely misleading as it was first touted as “significant savings for the taxpayers,” and then it was stated that this administrative position was necessary because the men and women who serve in our public safety departments “lack the management skills” to become chief.

Both of these excuses for this unnecessary $105,000.00 administrative position are not consistent with the reality of what has occurred with the public safety director in place for the past 10 months.

The fact is that taxpayers are actually paying significantly more with a public safety director than we would with chiefs.  By law, the public safety director cannot assume the duties of a police chief. Where this arrangement has been tried in other communities litigation has followed; Brigantine taxpayers have already paid thousands for costly litigation with the acting police chief, including some of his legal bills as ordered by the judge

In the absence of a chief in the Fire Department, four fire captains must be paid as the chief when they are on their duty shift: $52,000.00 has been budgeted to cover this cost in next year’s budget. In addition, overtime in the Fire Department in the first quarter of this year exceeds the entire expenditure for 2013, as the public safety director and the manager have not moved to fill any of the 7 vacancies caused by retirements last year.

Approximately $90,000.00 was expended for Fire Department overtime in 2013. In the first quarter of this year alone, $105,000.00 has been spent and $400,000.00 is budgeted for the year.  This “plan,” which has been developed under the leadership of the public safety director, is on a path to a 400% increase in overtime in 2014.

With the present Firefighters’ Contract expired, the opportunity has been squandered to date to lower the starting salaries and add steps for firefighters to reach top pay.   This would allow the open positions to be filled at a significant savings.  Even the purchase of a new fire truck had the added cost of a $10,000.00 consultant to advise the public safety director.

With respect to the assertion that there is no one serving in the Police and Fire Departments or Beach Patrol who is qualified to be chief of his or her respective department, is also not supported by the facts.  Each department has talented, experienced, and educated leaders.  They have attained advanced degrees, numerous certifications, have military experience, and have served the community for years with distinction.  I find this insult to the men and women who are committed to protect and serve our community the most egregious argument offered to justify the appointment of a public safety director.

As the financial justification for the public safety director can not be sustained by facts, and the insulting contention that the managerial talent does not exist in our public safety departments is not consistent with the exemplary past performance of these departments, Brigantine voters should vote yes on May 13, to remove this unnecessary position to save money and support the members of our Police, Fire, and Beach Patrol.

Thank you,

Philip J. Guenther

Brigantine Democrats View:

A recent City Council meeting saw the defeat of an ordinance to immediately remove the position of the Public Safety Director from the City Code. This ordinance resulted from a petition signed by over five-hundred registered Brigantine voters and will now proceed to a special election this Spring.

It is our contention that the major motivating factor behind this move to remove the Public Safety Director is an attempt to discredit the Democratic majority on Council, along with a hardened resistance to change.

Remember that the Public Safety Director position has existed for many years and was never contested while a Republican appointee held the position. These same attitudes were last displayed in the failed attempt to change the form of our government back to the old Commissioner system. Again, there was never any attempt to challenge our Council form of government while a Republican administration held power.

The position of Public Safety Director gives the city a dedicated manager to deal with the challenge of introducing change aimed at maintaining our present level of public safety while reducing and controlling the unsupportable high costs associated with it.

Without a Public Safety Director at this time of intense focus, the City Manager will have to deal directly, daily and even hourly, with three large and complex departments who have to date dictated to the city. Members of these departments who have expressed themselves publicly have displayed a staunch resistance to needed changes.

We sincerely believe that we were elected to bring change to the way our city has been run in the past. We have instituted several changes already that have resulted in saving taxpayer dollars. We have worked hard to reduce the costs of Brigantine’s city government and we still face more challenges ahead, such as the large deficit of the golf course.

We have now seen two attempts by small groups of voters to overcome the results of the election that brought us to a Democratic majority on City Council. We need your support to continue forward or the city will fall back into the poor habits that have plagued us for so very long.

We need you, all of you, to make the effort and to take the time to familiarize yourself with the issues and to vote in the upcoming special election to keep the position of Public Safety Director.

Lisa McClay – Councilwoman – 2nd Ward

Joe Picadi – Councilman – 3rd Ward

Rick DeLucry – Councilman – 4th Ward

Tony Pullella – Councilman-at-Large

Frank Kern – Councilman-at-Large

Read Councilman Pullella’s View: The May 13th election is about the fundamental change in our city government. A Republican majority that has controlled Brigantine for 115 years is now the minority. Phil Guenther has been a leader of the Republican majority from 1990 to 2012. In 2013, five members of our community, Democrats, who happen to be fiscal conservatives, gained control of city council.

Now a member of the minority party, Phil Guenther suddenly thinks that the form of government has led for 23 years is no longer appropriate and signed a petition to change the city charter. He also supports a petition to eliminate the position of PSD, a position he has supported since he has been in office. In 1990, a paid part time safety director was hired. That position was made a full time position in 1997.

And now in 2014, Phil Guenther finds it urgent to have our residents vote to remove the PSD position from our city code, at an expense of $30,000 to the taxpayers. (We asked that the vote be held in November, at no additional expense to taxpayers.)

The Democratic majority is keeping its promise to reduce spending. We have eliminated numerous positions in 2013 and 2014, saving several hundred thousand dollars. In fact if it were not for the golf course deficit, we would have reduced last years budget.

Through attrition we are attempting to make structural changes, such as part time firefighters/EMTs and class II police officers that would supplement a reduced full time staff. The result will be annual cost savings and a reduced city budget. In 2013 the fire department retired six firefighters.

The city manager, in conjunction with the interim public safety director and with the support of council majority, has proposed hiring certified firefighters/EMTs with a minimum 5 years experience. These part time hires would work under 30 hours per week at a starting salary of $15.00 per hour, with no benefits. They would work side by side with our full time firefighters. Ideally, as additional full time members retire, they would have the opportunity to join the full time staff.

Several senior officers have stated that they are opposed to part time firefighters/EMTs. The officers believe they are not as qualified, since most applicants would be members of volunteer fire departments, and don’t train on a daily basis. The fact is that volunteer fire departments protect nearly every mainland community, such as Absecon, Galloway, Egg Harbor Township and Linwood. A number of our senior officers live in these communities. I don’t understand their rationale.

In order to implement these and other initiatives, the city manager must select chiefs who under- stand the financial difficulties, while they lead, manage and motivate their departments. Choosing chiefs has been a challenging process for the city manager.

Having an interim public safety director has enabled her the time needed to evaluate the leadership in each department In conclusion, we have been working diligently to reduce spending, while continuing to provide you with the services you deserve.

We appreciated your support when you elected us and more than ever, we need your support to go to the polls and vote NO Tuesday May 13.

Councilman Tony Pullella

Read Brigantine Fire Dept Official statement from Tiger Platt of Absecon NJ, President of Brigantine Professional Firefighters. IAFF Local 2657

(in regard to overtime/public safety director issue……)

Recently, a series of accusations have been made by certain members of the community that shed a negative light on the Fire Department.

These members will stop at nothing to attempt to derail this important election today. I will address the issues and misinformation that they have brought up. I urge Facebook users to visit our Facebook page (Brigantine Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 2657) for a more in depth explanation and useful information.

The union NEVER SUED the City of Brigantine. A grievance was filed and after the city rejected it, the next step is to meet with an arbitrator. At the meeting with the arbitrator, the city manager AGREED to pay the Captains “acting out of title pay”.

No one forced this on anyone, she could’ve said no. It was an agreement. No one ever sued anyone and there never was a judgement. The fact that erroneous claims are being made that the city manager does not have financial oversight over the Captains is ridiculous. No arbitrator can remove that responsibility from her.

The checks and balances of overtime that public officials are publicly lying about has to stop. When someone comes in for overtime, the Captain on duty fills out the required slip and writes an explanation on it of the reason for overtime.

That slip is then forwarded to the next on duty Captain since we have no Chief. That Captain then reviews it and either questions the reason for overtime or approves it. Then, an email of all overtime approved gets sent to the Director of Public Safety and he reviews it. If he has a question about any overtime earned, he then emails the Captain back.

After all of that takes place, at the end of a two week pay period the time sheets gets forwarded to payroll. The fact that the Public Safety Director failed to mention his part in the overtime payment process is disingenuous, misleading, and unprofessional. For the record, we welcome an investigation in to the overtime approval process. What you will find is a department with a 20% decline in
manpower causing the shifts to be understaffed.

In my opinion, the lowest and most disgusting claim that these individuals have made is that members got paid overtime to console a grieving widow. How dare you drag our late Chief’s family into your web of lies? The slip that was passed around at the council meeting and then again at the Brigantine Taxpayers Association meeting shows that members earned comp time, not overtime, to meet with the city manager, have a Captains meeting, and meet with Chief Holl’s wife. The Captains were “ordered” in to work that day by the city manager and during the course of the day, among fifty other things that were done, a visit was made to a grieving widow to make funeral arrangements for her husband.

For whatever reason, the city manager sat quietly during this fiasco at the council meeting and failed to clear up the air and tell the truth about the events that happened that day. Also at 10:07pm, during the council meeting, I texted the Public Safety Director and asked him if I could come in to council chambers and answer these questions and clear the air. Because I was on duty, I am not allowed to attend the meetings and speak on the Departments behalf. He looked at his phone, on camera, and ignored my request. This is why we need a Chief at the table. No one represents the men and women of the Public Safety Departments at council meetings anymore.

In closing, I want to thank all of the people of Brigantine that KNOW THE TRUTH. You have always supported us through all of the bashing and hatred and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We know the truth will all come out in the end and you will see the root of all this evil.

We urge you to get out and VOTE YES today and remove this unnecessary politically driven position from city code.

Thank you.

Tiger Platt
Absecon, NJ
Brigantine Professional Firefighters
IAFF Local 2657

Read Statement from Concerned Citizens for Brigantine

To the editor:

I’ve been hearing that some people are concerned as to what it means to vote ‘yes’ in the upcoming election. By voting ‘yes,’ you’re voting ‘to abolish the position of Public Safety Director.’ That is how the ballot will be worded on Tuesday, May 13.

By voting ‘yes,’ you are voting for chiefs to lead the police and fire department and the beach patrol. For all they do to protect and serve our community, they deserve to lead their own departments. After all, every day that they go in to work, they are prepared to potentially risk their lives for our families.

My reason for getting involved is simply for the concern and safety of my family. If you’ve had to call 911 before, you know that the response time is incredible, and the knowledge and capability of the first responders is second to none. I’m not willing to risk losing that.

Currently, the majority of our city council seems to be confused as to why they are elected. It seems as though they only support the citizens who feel they way they do. They spend their time trying to sway the community into supporting their wants. It’s their job to represent us, and the betterment of our community.

I would like to thank Mayor Guenther and Councilman Simpson for supporting us and our petition. When we formed the Concerned Citizens for Brigantine, we started as a nonpartisan group of Brigantine residents who were concerned for the future of our town’s safety. Then as we gained momentum, and more people got involved in supporting the idea to abolish the public safety director, Mayor Guenther and Councilman Simpson took notice and supported our cause. I think they are a great representation of what City Councilmen are supposed to do.

This is what we need on our City Council, more councilmen that listen to the public. I hope the Brigantine residents take notice and keep this in mind in November, and vote ‘yes’ on May 13!

Sandi Williams, Admin Asst to Andy Simpson

Concerned Citizens for Brigantine

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