Beefing up the force Council approves police contracts, new officers and promotions
With only one opposing vote, the Town Council voted on Dec. 28 to give the police chief his own contract for the first time. The three-year deal is retroactive to Jan. 1, 1999 and ends Dec. 31, 2002. Councilman John Reilly said the contract had been ironed out over several meetings, but Councilman John Bueckner asked that the item be pulled, claming that the action could be in violation of the law. Bueckner said he had checked with another attorney and had received a legal opinion that some aspects of the negotiation may have been improper. While Bueckner refused to comment further on it, other sources said the objection came because the town administrator had negotiated the contract with the police chief, posing a possible conflict of interest since the administrator had also consulted the chief while negotiating the PBA contract. The PBA is the police officers' union. The conflict is that Police Chief Dennis Corcoran's contract calls for a salary that would be $10,000 above the highest paid officer in the department, and by advising the town administrator on the PBA contract, he would have influenced the level of his own salary. However, Anthony Iacono, the town administrator, said the chief offered no material advice toward the PBA contract, and was only consulted in order to provide Iacono with information on vacation and other scheduling. The town's attorney, Sheri Segalbaum, told council members that she saw no problem, but agreed to look over the information Bueckner had supplied. Just ask Then-Mayor-Elect Dennis Elwell said during the meeting Bueckner should have asked questions in advance and not raised the issue at the last minute. Providing police chiefs with contracts is relatively new, something that came about thanks to a change in state law in the mid-1990s. Until then, police chiefs received the same rate of increase that was negotiated as part of the overall PBA contract. By providing the chief with a contract separate from the PBA's, the town can actually save money, because the chief in most departments is the highest paid and would get the most from a percentage-based PBA contract. In requesting a contract, Corcoran will actually make less than he would if he remained under the PBA. "His only request was that we maintain the $10,000 differential," one councilman said, asking not to be named. "I see that was very reasonable. The chief of police should make more than his officers." At the Jan. 28 meeting, the council also voted to accept a three-year contact with the PBA, which calls for 3.5 percent increases for the first two years and a 3 percent increase for the third year. Iacono negotiated the contract for the town without attorneys and without sending the matter to an arbitrator. One councilman claimed the town saved about $118,000 in legal fees as a result. The police department also increased its numbers to 56 with the appointment of four new officers. Mark Valentino, Roderick Aninipot, Mike Torres and Joseph DeGennaro were hired as new police officers at an annual salary of $31,880. Seventy-five percent of the salaries for the four new officers will be paid through a federal COPS grant that was restored to the town late last year after Mayor Dennis Elwell and Barbara Lawton of the Funding Group, the town's grant-writing firm, pushed to regain $900,000 of previously approved federal grants. "This is a triple win for Secaucus," Elwell said. "We're improving public safety, saving the taxpayers money and increasing services to the community." While the assignment of the four new officers will be determined by the chief of police, they are expected to form the basis for a new traffic division for the town - after they complete a five-month training session at the State Police Academy in Sea Girt. Meanwhile, the town also promoted four current patrol officers to Sergeant: Michael Reinke, Glenn Amodeo, John Cerny and Mike Makarski.