PLAINFIELD, NJ - If the Plainfield City Council approves a $450,000 settlement with Deputy Fire Chief Jeffrey Courtney tonight, will it cause a budget amendment?
The governing body agreed last week to move the settlement to the agenda and also heard recommendations from the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee on the 2018 budget. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for tonight, but the resolution for amendments, R-186-18, is blank in the online agenda.
Details of the settlement were not immediately available, but Courtney was mentioned in the pre-primary “lawsuit” last June (actually a Notice of Tort Claim) in which Fire Chief Frank Tidwell sought $2.5 million from the city. Tidwell alleged discrimination and harassment and detailed a clash with Courtney over succession as fire chief should Tidwell retire. Racial issues were implied, as Courtney is white and Tidwell is black. According to the tort claim, Courtney alleged that Tidwell said he does not want a white person to succeed him.
Tidwell has served in the Fire Division for 38 years and became chief in November 2011. Courtney has served in the Fire Division since August 1988.
The document’s ten pages also include Tidwell’s claims of harassment by Public Affairs & Safety Director Carl Riley, who is in charge of the Police and Fire divisions. However, the Plainfield Fire Officers Association has filed several “votes of no confidence” in Tidwell’s leadership.
The time allowed to settle or to file a lawsuit after a tort claim is six months, and it has apparently expired for Tidwell’s claim.
In a totally unrelated matter, the city is still paying off a $1.4 million settlement with Byron Halsey. Halsey was found innocent of the heinous 1985 murder of two children and was freed after 19 years in prison. In April 2014, a three-judge panel ruled that Halsey could sue police officers involved in obtaining his confession
The 2018 budget includes a payment of $341,300. In 2015, the budget had passed when the settlement was approved, so there was an emergency appropriation against the 2016 budget plus a second payment, totaling $682,600. The $341,300 for 2018 appears under “other expenses.”
Tonight’s City Council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court/Council Chambers, 325 Watchung Ave. Anyone wishing to speak on the Courtney settlement should refer to R—185-18 in the comment period before the council votes.