Differences Over Communications Officer Waiver Again Delay Berkeley Heights Police Education Amendments

Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Credits: Bob Faszczewski

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ—Apparent differences among members of the Berkeley Heights Township governing body about whether current members of the township’s police communications department should be exempt from a bachelor’s degree requirement to become police officers have once again delayed passage of an ordinance to change police education requirements.

The township council in April decided not to introduce an ordinance containing bachelor’s degree requirements until they clarified amended education requirements further.

Then, on Tuesday evening, an ordinance originally on the agenda would have required candidates for police officer to have earned a “bachelor’s or higher degree awarded by a bachelor’s degree-granting college or university.”

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That ordinance also would have allowed qualified veterans “as defined by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs” who have not earned a bachelor’s or higher degree to substitute two years of full-time active military service and an associate’s degree awarded by a degree-granting college or university to satisfy the education requirement and the education requirement could be waived for veterans with four years of full-time, active military service.

The above provisions were identical both in the ordinance originally on the agenda and in another version of the ordinance presented as an addendum to Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

However, the version of the ordinance originally on the agenda included a provision that “any communication officer employed in the police division hired prior to July 1, 2014 who has not earned a bachelor’s or higher degree as set forth above, can substitute a combination of two years employment with the division and an associate’s degree awarded by a degree-granting college or university to satisfy the education requirement.”

The  above provision was not included in the addendum version of the ordinance.

Mayor Joseph Bruno said at Tuesday’s meeting that members of the governing body apparently have differing views on the communications officer waiver and, due to these differences, the council did not act on Tuesday on any ordinance changing police education requirements.

He urged council members to make their feelings on the matter made known to Township Administrator Linda Cavanaugh so an ordinance can be introduced for action at the June 24 council session.

Police Chief Michael Mathis also said he would be happy to speak with council members about the matter.

Additionally, Mathis noted, in both versions of the ordinance all appointments to the police division would be made by executive order of the mayor.

Bruno agreed with the chief that the ordinance should also provide for police appointments to be made upon the recommendation of the police chief.

On another matter, council vice president Craig Pastore mentioned that the township had been notified of a Pillgrim Pipeline Holdings pipeline that would carry North Dakota crude oil from a train terminal at the port of Albany, NY through an area around Runnells Hospital to Linden and return gasoline, diesel, heating oil and other petroleum products to upstate New York.

Pastore said township residents “needed to pay attention” to the pipeline, and asked Bruno if he had been invited to a mayors’ meeting on the line.

Bruno replied that he understood the proposed pipeline would come “through the heart of the township” in the area of Locust Avenue and the mayors’ meeting was expected to take place next Wednesday.

Replying to a question from Councilman Thomas Pirone, the mayor said there already is a natural gas pipeline running through the township, but the proposed line would be moving product through Berkeley Heights.

On another matter, Cavanaugh noted that two public hearings would be held on the proposed sale of Runnells Hospital to a private hospital firm—one on June 17 in the freeholders meeting room in the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth and the second on July 1 in the township council chambers.

The county is expected to get $26 million from the hospital sale, and it has estimated the county and Berkeley Heights each could get about $500,000 per year in taxes once the hospital goes back on the tax rolls.

However, due to the loss by the county of Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements due to the sale, the county still is not sure of the exact impact of the sale on its annual budget.

On another topic, residents of Sussex Road and other streets surrounding Governor Livingston High School have expressed concerns about student parking in the area.

Mathis said Tuesday that Sgt. Robert Deitch would give a presentation at the June 24 council session on the high school parking situation.

On another traffic matter, the chief agreed with Virginia Calabrese, owner of LaBelle Bridals, that the speed on Springfield Avenue in the center of the township business district needed to be reduced from the current 35-mile-per-hour limit.

Calabrese, who said pedestrians trying to use crosswalks to navigate the street could be in harm’s way, said the speed should go down to 25 miles per hour.

The chief also said people tended to drive carelessly in the area.

Council President Jeanne Kingsley reported that the township clock was at the factory and she expected it to be installed in the business center in time for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in July.

On another matter, Councilman Kevin Hall congratulated Councilman Robert Woodruff on winning the Republican nomination for mayor, Kingsley on her nomination for another term on council and Marc Faecher on his nomination to council.

Hall also thanked Bruno, who was defeated by Woodruff, for his four years of “dedicated service” as mayor.

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