Mayor Dan Rodrick on Thursday said a review of the township code has revealed that within his power as mayor, he may make changes to police staffing as long as they comport with current ordinances.
Rodrick and his allies on the township council have introduced an ordinance to restructure the police department to eliminate the positions of three captains – two of whom are retired or planning to retire in the next several months – and use the savings to fund the hiring of eight Community Service Officers, or CSOs, generally referred to as EMTs. Current captains are paid more than $200,000 per year each, an expense that would be better placed toward establishing more EMT positions and bringing down wait times for ambulances. Residents of the barrier island, in particular, have raised concerns at public meetings about ambulances having to travel over a half-hour from Silverton to answer calls.
The measure was met by immediate consternation from the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing the supervisory officers, and public signing events have been held at civic organizations and local businesses to recall the ordinance – it is not a recall of the mayor or any elected official themselves – in order to meet a 20-day deadline following passage. The council was due to adopt the ordinance last week, but a remotely-held council meeting descended into chaos and was abruptly ended. The timing of the next meeting – 2 p.m. on Ash Wednesday – has also garnered criticism. A rally against the ordinance is being organized for 1 p.m. the same day outside town hall, after which attendees will march into the meeting as a group.
Rodrick, however, said a review of the township code book provides the power under Toms River’s “strong mayor” form of government to make the changes at the executive level rather than waiting for the council to pass an ordinance.
The ordinance, Section 50-3, sets the maximum number of officers who may occupy certain positions in the department, but does not set minimums. For the captain rank, the ordinance sets a maximum of three, including a deputy chief who is counted as one of the three. The ordinance then calls for a maximum of seven lieutenants, 20 sergeants, 16 detectives and 113 patrol officers. One captain has already retired, the mayor said, and another is retiring in the coming months. He would not have re-filled those positions, however Chief Mitch Little decided to do so before the change in administrations.
Rodrick forwarded a letter to Shorebeat that he and his interim business administrator, political consultant Jon Salonis, sent to Chief Mitch Little on Feb. 3, referencing the ordinance. He explained that he had been given incorrect information, and a review of the ordinance allows him to order the chief to rescind the promotions granted to police employees in the interim between the 2023 mayoral election and the start of Rodrick’s term in January. Rodrick defeated incumbent mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill in last year’s GOP primary before defeating Democratic former school board president Ben Giovine, a late entry into the race, in the general election.
“This isn’t about promotions or jobs, it’s about the people of our town,” Rodrick told Shorebeat Thursday night. “Waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive is unacceptable.”
Rodrick said a small number of people connected with the police union, or opposed to his administration personally, were behind a campaign against rescinding the promotions and eliminating the captains’ positions. Political observers have also noted that upping the roster of EMTs employed by the township could upset the Silverton First Aid Squad’s lucrative contracts with the township. The for-profit EMS squad is owned by former township councilman Kevin Geoghegan and his family. Geoghegan is also a former police sergeant who had been aligned with Hill’s wing of the Republican party.
“We need more boots on the ground, not another two $350,000 dollar a year employees,” said Rodrick. “We are meeting with the EMT union this week to discuss opening up their contract so we can attract the best EMT’s to work for our town. The fight is over and the administration is moving forward.”
Rodrick said the combined total of shedding the supervisory positions as well as the department’s public information officer would fund the EMT salaries, and would allow another ambulance to be on the road 24 hours per day without raising property taxes.
It is unknown if the ordinance restructuring the department will appear on the Feb. 14 meeting agenda given the revised stance on the issue by the administration. The council agenda falls under the purview of the council president, who ran as part of Rodrick’s ticket in November.