Chase still looking for salary reimbursement from Irvington

Photo by Chris Sykes
Police Chief Michael Chase stands in front of the Police Information desk in police headquarters in Civic Square on Tuesday, Jan. 19, for the final time as chief of police before he turned in his gun and badge, as per the order from police Director Tracey Bowers.

IRVINGTON, NJ — Although former Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase filed a lawsuit against Mayor Tony Vauss, Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers, former police Director and current Public Safety Department employee Joseph Santiago and the township of Irvington, alleging he was illegally fired in January 2016, Chase received a W2 tax form from the Irvington Department of Revenue and Finance in the amount of $37, 673, which their records show he earned as an employee in 2016.

If checks were issued to Chase that he never received, where is the $37,673 that the township said was paid to him in 2016? Chase asked this of Faheem Ra’Oof, Irvington’s director of revenue and finance, in a letter dated Friday, Feb. 17.

Less than a week later, on Thursday, Feb. 23, the state Civil Service Commission issued its final administrative action regarding a Request for Interim Relief, that Chase had filed after he was allegedly fired. Irvington officials deny that Chase was fired, but the state Civil Service Commission sided with Chase and ordered the township to compensate him for the wages and salary he lost when he was fired him or else face fines of $100 per day up to $100,000.

“In this matter, the appointing authority did not follow the established layoff procedures,” state Civil Service Commission Chairperson Robert Czech wrote in the letter dated Thursday, Feb. 23, that was addressed to Vauss and attorney Susan E. Volkert, who the township hired to represent them in the CSC case.

“It improperly separated the petitioner from employment on Jan. 19, 2016, before submitting its layoff plan to this agency and receiving approval of that plan. Nevertheless, the record also reflects that the petitioner was removed on disciplinary charges, effective March 11, 2016, and that the appointing authority ultimately rescinded the planned layoff in April 2016. In light of the foregoing, it is appropriate that the petitioner be granted relief in the form of back pay from the time he was separated on Jan. 19, 2016, to the effective date of his removal on disciplinary charges, March 11, 2016. Therefore, it is ordered that the appointing authority compensate the petitioner with back pay from the time he was separated on Jan. 19, 2016, to the effective date of his removal on disciplinary charges, March 11, 2016.”

If the township doesn’t repay Chase the $37, 673 he said he never received, it will be fined $100 a day until the fines reaches a $100,000 maximum. And the only thing left to do after that is to go to court to settle the matter.

Chase has already been in court against Vauss, Bowers, Santiago and the township since 2016, when he alleges they illegally fired him. The Civil Service Commission has officially agreed with Chase in the matter.

Requests for comment from Vauss, Bowers and Santiago were unsuccessful by press time this week, but Chase had plenty to say.

“By law, every employer is required to give a W-2 to every employee by Jan. 31 of the following year of that taxable year,” said Chase on Tuesday, Feb. 28. “You must have a W-2 reflecting your salaries and deductions, so that you can file taxes. The township did send me one, but it was erroneous, because it reflected that I got paid $37,673 and I told them that was an error. I can’t file my taxes with this erroneous thing, because it will make me falsifying tax records by knowingly submitting false documents.”

Chase said he only received one paycheck in 2016, and that was paid to him Jan. 8.

“It was a direct deposit from the township and it didn’t reflect $37,673; it reflected my normal biweekly pay period for that two-week pay period,” said Chase.

In October 2015, the Irvington Municipal Council voted to approve an ordinance that combined the Irvington Police, Fire and Parking departments into a new Public Safety Department controlled by former Bowers. Chase protested that the new ordinance was illegal, because it was not consistent with state law that prohibits the new Public Safety director from running the Irvington Police Department’s day-to-day affairs while there is still a working police chief (Chase) in place in the department hierarchy. However, the council then voted to amend the ordinance, abolishing the chief of police position from the Irvington Police Department’s chain of command.

Bowers ordered Chase to turn in his gun and badge by Jan. 19, 2016. But in a letter to the chief dated Jan. 15, 2016, Bowers said the administration, “will honor your vacation leave through the remaining period of your chief’s salary.”

“Thereafter, you may receive payment at the chief’s salary up to your state mandated retirement date of July 1, 2016,” Bowers said in the letter. “Both of the above actions may be subject to the findings of your disciplinary hearing.”

Chase and his lawyer, Joshua L. Weiner, have filed a lawsuit challenging both ordinances on the premise that the actions taken by the administration are a form of retaliation against the chief for speaking out against the ordinances and other policies of the administration.

Chase is also threatening to sue the township and the Irvington Police Department for clarification of his job status on the grounds that, if he is no longer an employee, then the charges against him that prompted the disciplinary hearing in the first place should be dropped, as they’re no longer valid.

According to NJ Civil Service, the township was wrong to abolish the chief of police position from the Irvington Police Department and the new Public Safety Department while Chase was still on the job.

In a Feb. 2 letter to Vauss that also went to business administrator Musa Malik, State Civil Service Commission Assistant Director Joe Hill Jr. stated, “Mr. Bowers advised Chief Chase that the police chief’s position was abolished in the township of Irvington. As a civil service jurisdiction, the township of Irvington must adhere to the rules that govern the civil service for public employees in New Jersey … in order to involuntarily separate a permanent employee, the involuntary separation can only occur via layoff in accordance with N.J.A.C. 4A Chapter 8 or through major disciplinary in accordance with N.J.A.C. 4A Chapter 2.”

There was no comment from Vauss, Malik, Bowers or any other member of the current administration by press time this week.

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