IRVINGTON, NJ — Former police Chief Michael Chase considers it good news that the township has agreed to pay him the $37,673 that the New Jersey state civil Service commission says it owes him, although he has still not received a W2 tax form from township government for this amount. This is the same amount the Department of Revenue and Finance said he was paid this in 2016, though he says he was never paid at all, after being fired by Mayor Tony Vauss and the Municipal Council when his job and job title were abolished by creating a new Public Safety Department.
“They said they’re issuing a check for the money that Civil Service said they owe me,” said Chase on Monday, March 13. “Faheem Ra’Oof, the director of the Department of Revenue and Finance, has not spoken on my W2. They said they’re going to comply with the Civil Service order.”
On Thursday, Feb. 23, the state Civil Service Commission issued its final administrative action regarding a Request for Interim Relief, that Chase filed after he was allegedly fired. Irvington officials deny 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 or else face fines of $100 per day as much as $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 Administrative 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petitioner was removed on disciplinary charges, effective March 11, 2016, and that the appointing authority ultimately rescinded the planned layoff in April 2016.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, Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers, former police director and current Public Safety Department employee Joseph Santiago and the township since 2016, when he alleges they illegally fired him. The Civil Service Commission has officially agreed with chase on this matter, but he says he still needs that W2 from 2016.
“The federal law says you have to get a W2,” said Chase. “A W2 is confirming that someone got paid. They never paid me. They’re paying me now in 2017. They said the township Legal Department said they have to send the check to my lawyer. What do they want me to do about 2016?”
“There’s no way you don’t reconcile your books for a whole year,” said Chase. “You’re telling me your records don’t reflect that this money was ever spent or otherwise accounted for by anyone in town hall? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
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 Bowers. Chase protested that the new ordinance was illegal, because it was not consistent with state law that prohibits the new Public Safety Department 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.”
Requests for comment from Vauss, Bowers, Santiago or the township were unsuccessful by press time this week.