Published in the Courier News, Thursday, February 21, 2008
State OKs city's plan to eliminate top cop post
By BRANDON LAUSCH
PLAINFIELD -- The state Department of Personnel has approved the city's proposal to abolish the position of police chief, effectively allowing City Council members to move forward with a plan that would force Chief Edward Santiago to continue working as a captain or retire, officials said Wednesday.
The state Department of Personnel on Friday determined the proposal -- unanimously passed Jan. 24 by four members of the City Council -- meets civil service laws and intends to improve "economy and efficiency" within the Police Division, agency spokeswoman Maryann Jemison said. It is effective April 11, she said, because targeted employees must receive a 45-day notice.
Before a layoff plan is implemented, state Department of Personnel representatives typically review affected employees' records, explain their civil-service rights and outline any options for further employment, such as the chance to accept another position, Jemison said.
City Council members have said they will pass an ordinance to formally eliminate the post and clear the way for the appointment of a civilian police director -- also described as an executive officer -- who would oversee day-to-day operations of the Police Division. The person would report to the mayor, city administrator and Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig, local officials have said.
Jemison said a person affected by a layoff plan who wants to challenge the good faith of a proposal has 20 days to file an appeal to the state Department of Personnel, which would forward the grievance to the state Office of Administrative Law for a preliminary ruling. The verdict would then go to the five-member Merit System Board, which can approve, deny or modify a judge's decision.
When informed of the Department of Personnel's approval, Patricia Breuninger, of the Scotch Plains firm of Breuninger & Fellman, which has represented Santiago in other issues involving the city, said she is "very aware that they want him to leave not because of his performance but because he evidently is not sympathetic to some of the political people in power."
"They want him out," she said. "Period."
During his nearly nine years as chief, Santiago has clashed with the city over police operations and a string of disciplinary actions lodged against him. Santiago was first suspended by former Public Safety Director Michael Lattimore in 2003 about a private management issue. In 2005, Santiago sued Plainfield officials, claiming negative publicity about the 2003 suspension and that a separate lawsuit Lattimore filed against the city damaged his reputation.
In 2006, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, shortly after taking office, placed Santiago on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of his lawsuit against the city. A judge then reversed the city's action and reinstated the chief.
In March 2007, Hellwig lodged a five-day suspension against Santiago, but the action was postponed pending a hearing. Private meetings before a hearing officer to determine whether Santiago deserved the suspension are ongoing.
Brandon Lausch can be reached at (908) 707-3175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online story here. Archived here.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.