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Council defeats anti-nepotism policy after appeal from Saddle Brook police chief

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

SHOUT OUT: An emotional appeal by Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert Kugler was still in their ears as Township Council members voted down an anti-nepotism policy last night.

Kugler is as proud as a father can be of his daughter, Shayna, who became a Bergen County sheriff’s officer 16 months ago. But the fact that she had to pursue the position after being rejected in their hometown made it imperative, he said, that he do all he can to prevent that from ever happening to anyone again.

“We take competitive civil service examinations with literally thousands of others and rank according to score,” the chief told CLIFFVIEW PILOT after last night’s meeting. “Why should family members be unfairly excluded?”

Shayna Kugler with her parents, Robert and Christine, at last year’s BCSO swearing in (FILE PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

Had it been approved, the proposed ordinance would have prohibited parents, siblings and children of certain officials from holding municipal posts. That includes those working for a relative who’s a department head — as Kugler is.

Councilman Andrew Cimiluca, who crafted the measure, voted in favor of it along with Councilwoman Karen D’Arminio.

Striking it down were Councilman Todd Accomondo, who is with the sheriff’s department, Councilman Joe Camilleri and Councilwoman Florence Mazzer.

“I have no problem with wanting to stop political appointments without being subject to competitive testing,” said Kugler, the only person to address the council about the proposed ordinance before the vote. “But to unfairly stop a son or daughter, or sibling from following in the footsteps of his/her family member is just plain wrong.

“They deserve the right to be competitively involved for consideration just like everyone else would.

“This was nothing more than a certain faction trying to legitimize an unfair and discriminatory act by the former appointing authority,” the chief said. “I’m glad a majority of council members have seen the unfairness of what was being presented.”

Mayor Robert White — a former deputy police chief under Kugler — last fall ousted former Mayor Karen Chamberlain, who two years ago hired only two new police officers, instead of an expected three, effectively keeping Shayna Kugler off the force.

The eventually-vanquished mayor’s animosity ran deep:

Nearly 15 years ago, Chamberlain directly promoted officers without telling Kugler or then-Public Safety Director Louis V. D’Arminio.

D’Arminio — a former Hackensack detective sergeant who went on to become mayor himself — insisted Chamberlain remove herself from all police business. She refused.

In 2003, D’Arminio terminated Chamberlain’s daughter from the police department after determining that she was unfit for duty. A state administrative law judge later determined that the officer, Kimberly Perrelli, should be considered retired instead of fired, restoring her pension eligibility. Perrelli dropped sexual harassment charges she’d lodged against Kugler and others.

Four years ago, Chamberlain ordered Kugler to “cease and desist” from dealing with the media – including production of an interactive “Chief’s Chat” online program – unless she approved his remarks in advance.

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli cautioned her against it on legal grounds and the NJ State Association of Chiefs of Police threatened to sue Chamberlain “for interfering with the day-to-day operations of the agency” in violation of the Chiefs Responsibility Act (NJSA 40A:14-118.

She eventually relented.

Then Chamberlain began removing Kugler from promotions and appointments in his department.

Kugler recused himself from the hiring process after his daughter decided to face potential opposition and apply to work in the town where she grew up. Shayna Kugler wrote a story about the experience for CLIFFVIEW PILOT :

Saddle Brook police chief’s daughter thanks officials for chance to become officer

“Yes, it was disappointing at fisrt in not being selected for the Saddle Brook Police Department,” she said after being sworn in as a sheriff’s officer last year. “But I’ve moved on. As one door was closed, another one opened.

“The way I see it: I’m getting the opportunity to serve the people of Bergen County — and that includes my hometown!”

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