EDITORIAL: Cliffside Park Police Chief Donald Keane has ended what had become a months-long battle with Cliffside Park Mayor Gerry Calabrese and the borough council, watched by supportive fellow chiefs within Bergen County and around the state, by retiring.
“I gave over 34 years of my life to my home town of Cliffside Park,” Keane told me this morning. “I believe I have accomplished a lot during my career here and hoped to do much more — including finishing the accreditation process we recently began.
“It has become apparent over the past months that borough officials want to go in a different direction.”
The highly respected U.S. Marine Corps veteran last week won a preliminary injunction from a judge in Hackensack restraining Calabrese and the council from taking authority from him to appoint detectives and determine his replacement when he’s away from the job.
An settlement was then negotiated in which Keane would drop the suit and take retirement.
Instead of allowing him to make the announcement himself, borough officials tentatively approved the measure at a closed-door work session and then disclosed it to a local newspaper reporter ( CLIFFVIEW PILOT learned of the agreement on Tuesday and withheld publication until Keane could officially announce it. The newspaper story popped this morning).
Keane, who is the current president of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, has drawn praise from his colleagues for staying above the fray while the council enacted an ordinance that they said illegally diluted his state-vested authority.
Nearly two dozen of his fellow commanders in blue attended the Oct. 8 meeting at which the council made the highly controversial move.
“Chief Keane conducted himself with true dignity and professionalism,” one of them, New Milford Police Chief Frank Papapietro, told me this morning. “He did not allow the situation, which was clearly personal, to turn into a public political spectacle. He protected the integrity of his department by keeping them out of the politics at hand.
“As a true professional, with knowledge that the law was on his side, he allowed the courts to vindicate him and thereby protected the rights of all chiefs going forward,” Papapietro said. “We owe him a true debt of gratitude for shouldering this burden on our behalf as he once again demonstrated the qualities that have earned him statewide respect throughout his career.”
Keane received enthusiastic backing from the New Jersey Association of Police Chiefs.
“Chief Keane is a professional. He’s had a stellar career,” said Raymond Hayducka, the immediate past president of and spokesman for NJSACOP. “He was put in an impossible situation, and he remained a professional throughout. He came to work every day and did his job. No complaints. No trouble.
“They bought him out because they knew they had a problem with the ordinance — plain and simple,” Hayducka said, in a phone call. “They knew the judge wouldn’t allow it.
“That ordinance is still illegal,” he said. “If the next chief wants to contest it, we will gladly do so.”
Hayducka paused, then added: “You have to question why an elected official would want to control a unit that does background checks for people who apply for liquor licenses.”
The preliminary injunction issued by Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan last week froze the ordinance, which wrested authority from the chief in assigning officers to the detective bureau and for appointing the department’s interim commanding officer when he is out sick or on vacation.
Borough spokesman Bill Maer said the governing body believed it had the authority to take such steps as a way of making police more accountable and operations more efficient.
However, a lawyer for the state chief association — which represented Keane — said the measure was illegal under a state law governing the powers of police chiefs.
“The ordinance is precisely the sort of political interference from a political official that the statute was designed to prevent,” the attorney, Vito Gagliardi Jr., said.
Case law doesn’t support that argument, he added.
Although the complaint against the borough, Calabrese and all six council members was filed in Hackensack, it was transferred it to Passaic County to avoid a potential conflict: Councilwoman Dana Martinotti’s husband is a Superior Court judge in Bergen County.
Brogan said he would hold a hearing next month to determine whether the injunction should be made permanent.
“I just want them to let me run a good department,” Keane repeatedly told me throughout the process. “Other than that, I have nothing else to say.”
This morning, he opened up — a bit: “I thank all the officers of the department for their dedication to the profession and the citizens of Cliffside Park,” the chief said. “I wish them all the best. Godspeed!”
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