IRVINGTON, NJ — Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers and fire Director John Brown recently made history in town by appointing Capt. Antonio Gary as the first black fire chief to lead the Irvington Fire Department.
“I am honored to have the opportunity as mayor of Irvington to swear in our first African-American fire chief in the history of the township,” said Vauss on Monday, Aug. 8. “Antonio Gary has served our town well in the ranks of firefighter to deputy chief for 20 years and now he assumes the top leadership role as our chief of Department, Department of Public Safety, Irvington Fire Division.”
On Wednesday, July 27 Vauss, Bowers and Brown also promoted 13 members of the Irvington Police Department to ranks ranging from sergeant to deputy chief. Capt. Stephen Yannotti, Detective Capt. Michael Tomich and Capt. Dwayne Mitchell were all promoted to deputy chief.
The other promotions included: Lt. Stewart Townsend, Lt. Kenneth Price, Lt. Kim Williams, Lt. Harold Wallace and Lt. Lester Wilson to captain; Sgt. Eric Wilson and Sgt. Mark Green to lieutenant; and police officers Dawn Koontz, Kevin Hughes and Barry Zepeda to sergeant.
They also made history by getting the 13 newly promoted members of the Irvington Police Department to defer the salary increases accompanying their promotions in rank; in fact, the those promoted agreed to defer their new salaries for 18 months, in order to help the department.
“In terms of the agreement that we did with the people that we promoted, we recognize and appreciate the officers taking that deferment of pay, because it’s a sacrifice,” said Bowers on Tuesday, Aug. 2, during the annual National Night Out celebration in Civic Square. “While they took the sacrifice for those 18 months, the promotion is forever though. So it sort of balances out. In the end, it balances out.”
Bowers said the police officers’ short-term sacrifices are greatly appreciated. He also said they won’t be in vain.
“They’re buying into the mayor’s mission to make Irvington clean and safe,” said Brown on Tuesday, Aug. 2. “We’re all working together to bring this town back, safe and clean.”
Vauss said he was glad to hear that. He said morale and camaraderie are very important to his administration, because happy municipal employees do a better job.
“Branding is important and community is important,” said Vauss on Tuesday, Aug. 2. “So for people to have a sense of community where they can come out here, talk to the police director, the directors of public works, housing, up close and personal, and be able to address their situations here, is just a great thing. The officers that were promoted and the new fire chief and all the other members of our Fire Division and Police Division are so into bettering this town and brought into it that they’ve actually donated back to events like this and upcoming events to show that we’re all in this together. And you don’t see that anyplace else.”
Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Detective Maurice Gattison agreed with the mayor; however, he also said he was not concerned that the agreement the administration reached with the 13 newly-promoted officers does not apply to his union.
Gattison said he in in favor of anything that will help make Irvington safer and cleaner.
“That was the SOA, the Superior Officers Association,” said Gattison on Tuesday, Aug. 2. “I had no dealings with that. The only dealings I had with were the three patrolmen that were becoming supervisors and really that didn’t affect my union at all.”
Gattison said he knows there are some officers and union members in the department who might not agree with the SOA union salary deferments but, in his opinion, they aren’t looking at the issue the right way.
“For the cops they always say: ‘That’s bad,’ ” said Gattison. “But let’s look at it from the other side. The previous administration wasn’t making any promotions. It don’t matter where you came out on the list. Sometimes, you bite the bullet to win the race. So you figure you’re not getting paid for a certain amount of time, but once you pension out, you’re pensioning out at a higher rate until you die.”
Firefighter Mike Scott is the president of the IFD Local 14 FMBA union and said the IPD SOA salary deferments also don’t apply to the Fire Department, because Gary was already an officer when he was promoted to fire chief and, in the same manner as Gattison, said the deferments are for Superior Officers anyway.
“We actually have a lot of first things going on for our department; I was the first black union president; we also have the first black union officers president; we have the first black fire director; and our first black fire chief, who was our first black deputy chief,” said Scott on Tuesday, Aug. 2. “It’s good things coming along and, even on this lift for lieutenants, for the first time ever, we have five black guys in the top 10.”