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Outgoing Saddle Brook mayor independently appoints police sergeants

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

A PUBLISHER WRITES: We were counting down the weeks until Saddle Brook Mayor Karen Chamberlain left office, but now it’s down to days — and will probably include counting the hours and even minutes after she appointed two police officers to sergeant without so much as a word to either the chief or his deputy, who happens to be replacing her as mayor come Thursday.

Chamberlain on Christmas Eve “orchestrated an unnecessary and unfair promotional process within the police department” when she “hastily presided over a promotion ceremony” Police Chief Robert Kugler said.

There were no review process, no discussion, nothing.

It wasn’t done fairly or competitively.

Neither Kugler ( above, right ) nor the incoming mayor/outgoing deputy chief, Robert White ( above, left ) , nor Public Safety Director Louis V. D’Arminio were even invited to the ceremony.

Jerry DeMarco

While that insults all three men, it more significatly puts the two new sergeants — as well as the No. 1 ranked-eligible candidate — in uncomfortable positions.

Police departments depend on good morale more than any governmental agency. Promotions are supposed to be celebrations — for the officers and their loves ones, for everyone in government (no matter their political affiliations), for the department and for fellow officers.

Instead we get this nonsense.

On top of all that, there’s the matter of New Jersey Civil Service regulations (uh-oh).

It’s as if the unpopular mayor were stuck in some time warp, when those in power openly did favors for their friends and stuck it to their adversaries with impunity, in places like North Bergen, Cliffside Park and Dumont.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, either — or the second, for that matter.

In a previous stint as mayor 13 years ago, Chamberlain directly promoted officers without telling Kugler. 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.

Three 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.

“To require prior approval before a Chief releases information that might be required of him under Executive Order 69 might not be appropriate,” the prosecutor told CLIFFVIEW PILOT , “as it might serve to defeat the intent of Executive Order 69 and probably runs afoul of our Court’s proscriptions in the SHORE V BOROUGH OF PARAMUS case.”

In that case, the courts found that Paramus violated the order by having the township clerk run all public-records requests through the municipal attorney first.

The NJ State Association of Chiefs of Police, which has 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.

This extended to her objection to hiring Kugler’s daughter, Shayna, as a township police officer even though she finished in the top three on the civil service exam.

Kugler has been chief for more than 20 years. He’s a former president of the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association and the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, belongs to the FBI National Academy Associates, and has served on the national and New Jersey DARE Executive Boards.

He’s highly respected and known for being bright, informative and extremely dedicated.

Kugler recused himself from the hiring process after his daughter decided to face potential opposition and apply to work in the place where she grew up, the town that she and her family love. Shayna Kugler wrote a very moving piece about the experience for CLIFFVIEW PILOT : Saddle Brook police chief’s daughter thanks officials for chance to become officer

Her father, meanwhile, warmly welcomed the woman who got the job, Rebecca Sanchez: Female Saddle Brook police officer appointed

Last month, Chamberlain appointed a dispatcher without so much as an application to the police department or a conversation with her successor.

Kugler, after learning of Wednesday night’s ceremony only a few hours before it began, asked Chamberlain to hold off.

The township PBA recently voted in favor of 12-hour shifts, requiring a review of the department’s organizational table. Rushing through a pair of promotions mucks that up, he said.

Unfortunately, the chief was spitting up a rope.

Although he considers all three officers “exceptional,” D’Arminio said that he’ll look to have the promotions reversed, the prospect of which is unpleasant at best.

You also have to wonder whether Chamberlain also has exposed the township to lawsuits and liability after pulling the kind of political stunt that some of us thought New Jersey had finally moved away from.

White, thankfully, is a no-nonsense professional with a reputation for making sound decisions.

He and Kugler now have to decide how to best move forward and make the best of the situation. Meantime, they’ll keep their fingers crossed that the soon-to-be-quickly-forgotten warhorse’s antics don’t come back to bite the township.

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