Township and Borough at Odds Over Selection Process for Leadership of United Princeton Police Department

With consolidation just seven months away, Township officials have suggested that one of their officers be promoted to acting chief so that the township has an officer in the top ranks of the unified Princeton police department.

Currently, the Borough has a chief, a captain and two lieutenants who have more seniority than the highest ranking Township officer. Township Chief Robert Buchanan is on leave until the end of the year and Lt. Chris Morgan is serving as officer in charge.

Borough Councilman Roger Martindell blasted township officials last night for suggesting the promotion.

“The proposal by the Township Committee to promote a Township policeman to acting chief is another unfortunate step in what appears to be the Township’s increasingly strident effort to attempt to influence the choice of employees for the new Princeton based not on merit but on parochial concerns, namely, whether the candidate is a present or former `Borough’ or `Township’ employee,” Martindell said.

“This effort became clear about a month ago when the Township sought to bar the chairman of the Transition Task Force, Mark Freda, a former Borough employee, from becoming an employee of the new Princeton by having us adopt an unnecessary conflicts policy that would have barred him from seeking employment in the new municipality,” he said. “It is now re-surfacing in this attempt to enhance the chances of a present Township policeman becoming a chief or Captain in the new police department.”

Martindell called advocating for a particular employee of the new Princeton based municipal affiliation “retrograde, parochial, and corrupt” and said the conflicts policy, which the Township proposed and the Borough rejected, was a charade to keep a particular former Borough employee from becoming an employee of the new Princeton.

“Similarly, the Township and its most recent police chief have separated ways, with the Township paying Mr. Buchanan not to show up for the balance of this year in circumstances that raises serious questions about the competency and integrity of the Township administration of its police,” Martindell said. “In that context, it makes no sense for the Township to promote one individual as acting chief simply to promote that individual’s chances for employment by the new Princeton.”

Martindell said doing what is best for the new Princeton does not include promoting a Township policeman to acting chief.

“Paying a policeman an acting chief’s salary is an unnecessary expense,” he said. “Proceeding as the Township proposes places a higher value on cronyism than merit, sending the wrong message to other officers in both departments and to the taxpayers they serve. The Township’s proposal fails to address serious concerns about the qualifications of individuals in the Township who might be promoted to acting chief, as raised in a recent government filing.  Given the Township’s management of its last three police chiefs, each of whom `retired’ in questionable circumstances, this latest proposal smells of a scandal brewing. We should have no part of it. Nor should the new Princeton.”

Some township officials have called Martindell’s comments “blather with no factual basis” and said he is simply engaging in “political grandstanding.”

In a phone interview Tuesday night, Township Committeewoman Liz Lempert called the response by the Borough to a draft memo on the subject “offensive and totally unproductive.”

At a joint issues meeting between Borough and Township officials, Lempert, Township Mayor Chad Goerner, Borough Mayor Yina Moore and Borough Council President Barbara Trelstad  talked about the make up of the new police department. Lempert said Moore and Trelstand expressed that they shared  Township officials’ concerns and agreed the concerns should be raised with the public safety subcommittee of the transition task force. She and Goerner then drafted a letter with all four of their names on it.

“We sent it for their approval to then send to the subcommittee,” Lempert said. “Instead the mayor wrote a formal response.”

Moore wrote a letter April 27 to Township Officials, with a copy sent to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, asking that Township officials not interfere with the work of the transition task force.

“With the advent of consolidation, the selection of the leadership of any municipal department will directly and substantially affect the management of the new Princeton,” Moore wrote. “The selection must be done in a careful and rational process. The Township’s expressed interest in the promotion of individual staff has articulated no such process. Rather, it suggests a desire to assert, for unsubstantiated reasons, a township claim to the selection of a new chief of police for the new Princeton.”

Lempert countered that township officials were just raising the issue and offering one possible suggestion that might work so that a township officer would be in the senior leadership structure of the new department.

“We were just saying this is an issue that should be looked at,” she said. “There are complex problems in consolidating the two municipalities. What is frustrating is these are problems we should be talking about together. That is what Chad and I were trying to do with Yina and Barbara. The response from the Borough  is `we don’t want to talk to you. We just want to call you names’.”

“If they didn’t like the draft memo they could have edited it,” Lempert said. “We were just trying to present the issue. There was one possible solution offered in the memo, but the memo said we were open to other ideas. The reaction is mind blowing to me. We all know we have to work together. But we have to be met half way.”

Lempert said under the current process to determine police department leadership, selection is based on rank, years of service and seniority and not necessarily whether someone is the best person for the job. But Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes,  a Borough police commissioner and member of the task force’s public safety committee, said the process to determine the leadership of the unified police department is also based on an officer’s performance and disciplinary record. Officers each have a police file commonly referred to as “a jacket” that would be reviewed.

While Moore and Martindell also raised concerns about any added cost of promoting an officer to chief, Lempert said an officer could be promoted to acting chief without any increase in salary. “It would not come with a pay raise at all,” she said.  Even though Buchanan does not retire until the end of the year, another officer could become acting chief until then, Lempert said.

Trelstad told the council she and Moore would be meeting with Goerner and Lempert today to discuss the police matter and other joint issues.

“Whether you were in favor of consolidation or not, on January 1 of 2013 we will be one town,” she said. “Our employees will be many of the employees we have now. We need to talk about one Princeton. That should be our goal.”

Councilwoman Jo Butler said the suggestion to promote a Township officer to acting chief was unfortunate. “Everyone is working as hard as they can on the transition task force, and the task force is expecting things to unfold more rapidly in May,” Butler said. “Everyone needs to hold on and be patient. This is a rare opportunity for Borough public safety, Township public safety and Princeton University campus security to sit at the same table. I see these issues muddying the water when there is opportunity for lasting progress in the community.”

Crumiller said she didn’t appreciate when the Township Committee discussed the Borough Council in a hostile way a week ago, and suggested that instead, the two governing bodies discuss the police issue together at their joint session next week.