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State court upholds Donovan request for delay in Bergen sheriff’s contract

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A state appeals court has ordered a delay in the implementation of new contract for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office until it can determine whether county Executive Kathleen Donovan had the right to be part of the negotiations.

The stay blocks what Donovan said is more than $10.5 million in raises for the department over a four-year span in a new contract that was negotiated by Sheriff Michael Saudino with Local 134. Saudino said the total is about a fifth of that when retirements and attrition are factored in.

“We’re not prepared to say anything at this point,” PBA President Michael Doyle told CLIFFVIEW PILOT tonight.

Donovan has argued that, as county executive, she had the right and responsibility to sit at the bargaining table with the sheriff and the PBA.

“I am very pleased that the Appellate Court took the time to carefully consider the logic of our argument and granted the stay until the appeal process is completed,” Donovan said.

“We want to affirm the right of the county executive’s office to be part of any and all contract negotiations that impact the taxpayers of Bergen County,”  added Donovan. “I cannot protect the taxpayers if I am not part of the negotiation process.”

The higher court decision stays Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte’s previous order that Donovan the negotiated 2011 and 2012 pay raises that she so far has denied county sheriff’s officers, lest taxpayers “be served, not harmed.

Donovan’s denial has become “a hardship to those officers who have not received the benefits of their approved negotiated contracts,” the judge wrote in the nearly 14-page decision first obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT in Hackensack last month.

  • YOU READ IT HERE FIRST (WITH REACTIONS) : A Superior Court judge refused to delay his order that Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan implement the 2011 and 2012 pay raises to Bergen County Sheriff’s officers that she thus far has denied. READ MORE….

Attorneys for Donovan argued that the executive, along with the sheriff is a joint employer of his employees, which thereby gives her the right to “negotiate contracts for the county subject to [freehold] board approval; make recommendations concerning the nature and location of county improvements and execute improvements determined by the board…,” under a state court ruling.

Local 134 and Saudino, however, point to a statute approved by lawmakers in Trenton that applies to public contracts. As an elected official who commands an office, and not an appointed department head who must answer to the executive, the sheriff has the authority to set salaries, they argued.

Donovan today cited an August 2012 ruling by the state Public Employee Retirement Commission, which she said wrote to the Appellate Division last week of “its intention to intervene in the case.”

Conte agreed with Saudino and the union that the proper venue for hearing the case isn’t PERC but in the courts.

The judge said Donovan mistakenly “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.”

Conte concluded that the union and Saudino demonstrated, to him, “a reasonable probability of success on the merits” of their case before any judge in New Jersey — local, appeals or Supreme.

A “balancing of equities and hardships favors injunctive relief,” the judge wrote, adding that there would be “irreparable injury” if the court didn’t intervene.

“The public interest will be served, not harmed, by granting [the union and sheriff’s] request for implementation of the negotiated contracts,” Conte wrote.

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