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Bergen County administrator: Donovan won’t sign sheriff’s officers contract

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A local judge’s decision this week doesn’t force Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan to begin distributing retroactive to county sheriff’s officers, contrary to another media report, Administrator Ed Trawinski said this morning.

Twawinski said the report falsely suggests that Donovan must pay the retroactive raises and associated benefits for 2010 and 2011 while waiting for the state Appellate Division to hear her appeal of Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte’s ruling in Hackensack this week.

Conte refused to delay his order of last month that Donovan implement the raises negotiated by Local 134 with Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino that she thus far has denied ( SEE: Bergen judge refuses to delay order that Donovan pay sheriff’s officers ).

Donovan insists she should have been at the barganing table. Saudino and the local say he holds that right as an elected chief of an office and not an appointed department head.

Conte’s decision doesn’t mean Donovan has to do anything at the moment, Trawinski emphasized this morning.

“The county executive is not going to sign that contract,” Trawinski told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “That decision is on appeal.”

Trawinski also said Donovan wouldn’t respond to a claim by the president of the sheriff’s officers union in CLIFFVIEW PILOT yesterday that she’s a hypocrite.

PBA Local 134 President Michael J. Doyle cited what he said was “hypocrisy from the county executive given her recent public statements that anyone who files an appeal against her is wasting taxpayer money.

“Now, she is the one filing the appeals, being that she didn’t get her way.”

Trawinski, in turn, said: “I will not dignify what I believe is an inappropriate comment from a sworn officer of the law who I believe is held to a higher standard of conduct.”

Doyle said neither he nor any of his officers — or their attorney — were surprised by Conte’s first decision and subsequent refusal to delay his ruling so that Donovan could take her case to the state’s Appellate Division.

“The law is straightforward in this case,” Doyle told CLIFFVIEW PILOT yesterday. “We look forward to any appellate review of this decision.”

So does Donovan, Trawinski said.

“If the law were as clear as the PBA president says it is, then the county executive would have been at the bargaining table,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning. “We believe the law is that clear.

“Where in the name of county government can the sheriff decide how much additional money the County Executive has to put in the budget to pay for pay increases to his men and women?” he added.

In the end, it comes down to which law the higher court believes governs the dispute.

As chief executive officer of the county, Donovan said she has the statutory right to “negotiate contracts for the county subject to [freeholder] board approval; make recommendations concerning the nature and location of county improvements and execute improvements determined by the board…”

Local 134 and Saudino, in turn, relied on another statute later approved by lawmakers in Trenton that applies to public contracts, giving him authority to set salaries that don’t exceed specific guidelines.

Conte agreed.

He said Donovan “relies heavily” on a New Jersey case titled “Prunetti v. Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders” — an approach that he characterized as “misplaced.”

Although Mercer and its sheriff were considered joint employers for purposes of collective bargaining in that particular instance, NJSA 40A:9-117 essentially reveresed that opinion.

The new statute “was enacted with the clear legislative intent of giving the Sheriff the power to fix the compensation of its employees, and made no mention of the County as being a joint employer for purposes of collective bargaining,” Conte wrote.

“The applicable statute is intended to give the Sheriff the exclusive power to negotiate contracts of its employees,” the judge ruled. “[C]onsidering the fact that Prunetti was decided prior to the enactment of the statute, the Court finds that Defendant’s reliance on the holding in Prunetti is not persuasive.”

CLIFFVIEW PILOT’s Mary K. Miraglia contributed to this story

  • INSIDE THE RULING: Taxpayers “will be served, not harmed” if Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan delivers the negotiated 2011 and 2012 pay raises that she so far has denied county sheriff’s officers, Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte wrote, in refusing to reconsider his order of last month that Donovan do so immediately. READ MORE….

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