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Leonia chief’s retirement tied to suit against borough officials

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Leonia Police Chief Jay Ziegler retired the day after borough officials agreed to settle a civil rights suit he had filed against them, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

The Leonia Mayor and Council agreed to the settlement after a personnel discussion the night of Monday, March 18, records show.

The next day, Ziegler was gone.

( CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning was the first to report Ziegler’s retirement. This story overwrites that version).

Ziegler, 50, filed the civil rights suit against Mayor John DeSimone, Council members Peter Knott, Darryl Whitter and Gil Hawkins, former Mayor Mary Heveran, former Council member Frank Raucci, Business Administrator Jack Terhune and the borough in Superior Court in Hackensack.

The trouble in Leonia is that union terms and benefits don’t apply to the chief, who is considered management. That also means no longevity or extra pay for holidays worked — part of the basis for Ziegler’s suit.

The resolution approved by the council at last week’s meeting, a copy of which was obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT, is at the bottom of this article.

Ziegler’s retirement came as a surprise to some, with him two months shy of nine years officially in the job. Others, however, cited ongoing conflicts he had with certain borough administrators and elected officials.

Ziegler, a 26-year department veteran, is using accumulated vacation and leave to fill in the time until his April 30 retirement, sources in the borough told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Technically, Ziegler’s retirement isn’t official until the state Pension Board signs off on it.

Meanwhile, Lt. Tom Rowe is serving as acting commander until borough officials decide whether to hire a new chief or create the position of police director.

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“WHEREAS, the Borough’s Attorneys in consultation with the Borough’s Insurance Carrier have recommended that in order to avoid the expense of further litigation, it would be in the Borough’s best interest to compromise and settle all claims which Plaintiff has alleged in the above aforementioned lawsuit; and
“WHEREAS, the proposed settlement has been tentatively agreed upon by the Plaintiff and insurance carrier for approval by the Governing Body; and
“WHEREAS, the Mayor and Council having considered their recommendation and determining that settling this matter is in the best interest of the Borough; and
“WHEREAS, all retroactive and prospective adjustments to the Plaintiff’s salary/benefits are the exclusive result of ongoing and protracted contract negotiations, and that no terms of the agreement to settle this lawsuit will be considered or construed as an inducement to retirement, nor are any adjustments to the Plaintiff’s salary/benefits being requested or provided in anticipation of the Plaintiff’s retirement or in consideration of the Plaintiff’s retirement; and
“WHEREAS, the parties agree that the settlement of this matter is not an admission of liability or damages on the part of the Borough, its elected officials, officers, employees or agents ….
“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Mayor and Borough Council of the Borough of Leonia, that the Borough does hereby approve and ratify the settlement agreement entered into between the Plaintiff Ziegler and the Borough Defendants which includes certain rights and obligations of the Borough.
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED by the Mayor and Borough Council of the Borough of Leonia, that the Borough does hereby authorize and direct Mayor John DeSimone to execute the Settlement Agreement/Release, and any other documents to effectuate the settlement agreement, for and on behalf of the Borough and to so bind the Borough by his signature.”

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