UPDATE: A state judge on Friday denied Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s bid to invalidate the consolidation of the County Police Department into the county Sheriff’s Office.
Superior Court Chancery Judge Menelaos W. Toskos ruled that a conflict of interest alleged by Donovan against two of the freeholders who voted on the move wasn’t enough to nullify it.
Donovan claimed that Freeholders David Ganz and Steven Tanelli violated ethics laws because their children work for the sheriff’s office.
The judge, however, said that a conflict charge isn’t sufficient without proof of how they would benefit.
Tanelli’s son is an investigator in the Bureau of Criminal Identification, and has worked there since before his father ran for freeholder. Ganz’ daughter is a clerical worker who was hired early last summer.
Donovan’s attorney said that she will refile the complaint with additional information to prove her point.
Each side interpreted the ruling differently.
“He gave us a road map to be able to [prove the point], and that’s what we’re going to give him,” said Jeanne Baratta, Donovan’s chief of staff.
Freeholder counsel Edward Florio said it doesn’t matter what Donovan does.
“If they file an amendment, we’ll oppose it, and I suggest the result will be the same,” Florio said.
Tanelli, meanwhile, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that Donovan’s motion was “a sign of desperation on the county executive’s part to delay this police merger” and ”nothing more than a political stunt in an election year.”
He said he believes that “the taxpayers of Bergen County will finally benefit by saving millions of dollars with improved public safety once the re-alignment is enacted.”
At issue were two ordinances central to the freeholders’ initiative to fold the BCPD into the sheriff’s office.
The first ordinance specifically gives the freeholders authority to amend the county’s Administrative Code, which includes the staffing amount, type, reporting hierarchy and structure of county departments. The second ordinance moves the BCPD into another county division where it will be under the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.
A “familial relationship” is a recognized factor in conflict of interest law, Toskos said.
However, he said, the relationship to an affected employee doesn’t create a conflict in an elected official’s ability to conduc public business.
To succeed in such a complaint, you must prove the action will benefit the employee through a higher salary, increased professional opportunities, a promotion or other advantage.
This is the latest legal motion the county executive has lost at the state court level. Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte in 2012 upheld an action to force her to pay negotiated salary increases for the sheriff’s officers — then later refused to delay the order. Donovan appealed and is awaiting a ruling.
STORY/PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter