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Bergen judge refuses to delay order that Donovan pay sheriff’s officers

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia) Donovan photo, above left: Miraglia
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia) Donovan photo, above left: Miraglia
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia) Donovan photo, above left: Miraglia

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: 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, in a ruling first obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“I am very pleased,” PBA Local 134 attorney Steven B. Hunter said this afternoon following the release of Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte’s ruling. “I hope the county executive agrees, and provides the raises the sheriff’s officers have been waiting for a year.”

“The judge got it right, twice,” added Catherine Elston, an attorney for Sheriff Michael Saudino. “The judge did what he was compelled to do by law — interpret the statute according to its language and its legislative purpose.

“There can be no other interpretation other than that which the Judge gave,” she said. “For this reason, the litigation should end here.”

  • 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….

Messages were left for Donovan and her attorney, Matthew J. Giacobbe, who confirmed last week to CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he was pursuing an appeal on her behalf. He had to wait for Conte’s decision before doing so, however.

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT was the first to report ( see below ), Conte ordered the county executive on Dec. 6 to honor the contract negotiated by Saudino and Police Benevolent Association Local 134.

The judge determined that nothing gave Donovan a seat at the bargaining table, as she had insisted.

Saudino — as the head of a government office and not a department — bears that sole right,  Conte ruled ( SEE: Judge finds ‘hardship’ in Donovan preventing Bergen sheriff’s officers pay raises ).

Donovan asked him to reconsider while taking his ruling to the state Appellate Division.

A long wait for his response ended this afternoon when Conte issued his decision denying Donovan’s request that he stay his original order. Apparently, Conte reached his decision on Jan. 15 but didn’t finish the final ruling until today. It was unclear why.

Donovan incorrectly “relies heavily” on a New Jersey case, Prunetti v. Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, in refusing to pay the raises, contending she should have been at the bargaining table with the union as the chief executive of the county.

Following the Prunetti case, lawmakers adopted a state statute reversing its effects, Conte wrote in the decision released today.

Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan

According to the state Employer-Employee Relations Act: “The sheriff shall select and employ the necessary deputies, chief clerks and other personnel. The sheriff shall fix the compensation they shall receive in accordance with the generally accepted county salary ranges and within the confines of the sheriff’s budget allocation set by the governing body.”

That 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.”

As a result, Donovan’s “reliance on the holding in Prunetti is not persuasive,” Conte wrote.

The freeholders approved the pact, which Conte said dismisses Donovan’s claim that the county was prevented from participating

  • YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Hackensack ruled in favor Thursday of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino and his officers in a battle with County Executive Kathleen Donovan over their 2011 – 2014 contract and raises. An attorney for Donovan said the decision will be appealed. READ MORE….

Donovan has contended that the judge didn’t have jurisdiction to decide whether Saudino and Local 134 had the right to exclude her from negotiating pay raises for 2011 and 2012. That authority, she argued, rests with the Public Employees Relation Commission.

Conte, however, agreed with the union and Saudino that the issue before him wasn’t one of unfair labor practices, which is governed by PERC, but “a question of law” concerning the roles of the sheriff, freeholders and executive.

That law “is intended to give the Sheriff the exclusive power to negotiate contracts for its employees,” he ruled.

The judge emphasized that PERC “has never been provided with the jurisdiction to rule upon statutes that exclusively relate to relationships and inter-relationships between County Sheriffs, local Boards of Chosen Freeholders and County Executives.”

Rather, PERC has the authority to “prevent unfair practices, adjudicate unfair practice charges and issue remedial orders,” specifically in disputes between public-sector unions or individual employees and their employers, Conte wrote in his decision.

“Defendant’s request to dismiss this matter to PERC is hereby denied,” the judge ruled — a decision he reaffirmed today.

Donovan countered that a different law applied, one that gives the county executive the right to “negotiate contracts for the county subject to board approval; make recommendations concerning the nature and location of county improvements and executive improvements determined by the board….”

Conte, however, sided with the union and the sheriff.

Donovan relied on a “more general statute relating to the power of the county executive to negotiate local public contracts laws, and it does not [in] fact govern the roles of the sheriff’s office in negotiating collective agreements with the County PBA Local 134,” the judge ruled.

The union has argued that the salaries increases negotiated are “well within the confines” of the budgets for the past two years for other departments. In fact, the pay hikes are “substantially less than the salary increases negotiated by the County and the Prosecutor with other law enforcement negotiation units,” the local said.

ABOVE: Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte (STORY / CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia) Donovan photo, above left: Miraglia

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