MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – The Borough Council substituted David Paris for Robert Verry as the Hearing Officer for disciplinary charges of certain members of the Mountainside Police Department at its Tuesday, Sep. 18 meeting.
The council had appointed retired Police Chief Robert Verry as hearing officer to conduct a disciplinary hearing regarding Lt. Thomas Murphy at the Sep. 4 council work session. However, Murphy’s attorney had objected to the appointment of Verry and requested that a different hearing officer be appointed, Mayor Paul Mirabelli said.
Mirabelli also read a statement regarding a letter to the editor penned by the Democrat Candidates to the council, Anjali Mehrotra and Ileana Montes. “I would like to clear some inaccuracies contained in a letter to the editor, published last week in the Westfield Leader regarding the departure of two members of the Police Department. The Borough Council publicly approved settlement agreements with two, now former, officers at the Aug. 7 work session,” Mirabelli stated. He further noted that all council work sessions are open to the public and often reported in the media. The Aug. 7 meeting was “extensively” reported on in local papers, he said. One of the articles had detailed how the settlement agreements saved taxpayer money.
“To recap the meeting: under the agreements the officers were removed from the borough’s payroll effectively July 20, and they released the borough from paying them accrued sick days, unused vacation days and other benefits,” Mirabelli said. However, the borough was required by law to pay them their overtime up through their departure totaling approximately $40,000, he added. “Neither officer received a penny that we were not obligated by law to give to them,” he said and noted that copies of the agreements are available to the public.
He further stated that the council has no input regarding the officers’ pensions, as that decision rests on the State Pension Board. “We have provided the pension board with a copy of the agreements as requested. We are not protecting these officers, and any statements to the contrary are nothing more than political posturing,” he said.
Borough resident Liz Truman said that she has come to every council meeting since the Police Department debacle came out. She pointed out that the council members have been very quiet about the events that took place in the department, except for Mirabelli, who has been “rather condescending” towards residents who have come before the council to express their concerns and outrage. Truman said that the mayor has called the residents “confused” and told them that they “don’t understand” the issue.
“Mr. Mayor, we are not confused. We are concerned,” Truman said. She pointed out that the mayor has often stated that what went on at the department does not represent his values or the values of Mountainside. “You also have said to me that you did not bring this lawsuit on. I disagree. I believe that the inaction of this governing body to address issues within its ranks is exactly what brought this suit on,” she stated. She also noted that regardless of how “egregious” the actions of some police officers were, the lawsuit is brought against the borough and the members of the council, not against the officers. “A little bit of humility and respect for the residents when we are upset about it is in order. If these aren’t your values you should have done something to stop this behavior when it was brought to your attention. This mismanagement is the reason why we are in this mess,” she concluded.