Chiefs’ retirements raises questions about administration policy, practices

IRVINGTON, N J — The recent retirement of deputy chiefs Michael Tomich, Steve Yannotti and Dwayne Mitchell, and Capt. Kim Williams from the Irvington Police Division have raised questions about their retirement pay packages.

All agreed to defer the accompanying salary increases for as long as 18 months when they were promoted. However, the township is currently collecting deferments from every other municipal employee in order to close $3.25 million budget deficit from Calendar Year 2015.

Tomich, Yannotti, Mitchell and Williams were all promoted July 27, 2016, along with nine others in the IPD: Lts. Stewart Townsend, Kenneth Price, Harold Wallace and Lester Wilson to the rank of captain; Sgts. Eric Wilson and Mark Green to the rank of lieutenant; and police officers Dawn Koontz, Kevin Hughes and Barry Zepeda to the rank of sergeant.

Captain Antonio Gary of the Irvington Fire Department was also promoted to fire chief on July 27, 2016, the first black fire chief in township history. Gary is still on the job, despite the fact that his title and position no longer exists as Mayor Tony Vauss and the Irvington Municipal Council combined the police and the fire department to create the Irvington Public Safety Department.

Current Irvington Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers retired from the Irvington Police Department in 2015, and Deputy Director John Brown retired from the Newark Fire Department in October 2016. Both men stayed out of government service for a time after they retired, but eventually returned to serve in the Vauss administration. Bowers was appointed Public Safety Department director in 2016 and Brown recently returned year as deputy public safety director.

At the time that Tomich, Yannotti, Mitchell and Williams were promoted on July 27, 2016, the 18-month salary deferments they agreed to were touted by Mayor Tony Vauss as historic examples of the faith the department’s most senior members had in his new administration. During his 2017 State of the Township Address, Vauss specifically asked them to stand up and be recognized for agreeing to the 18-month salary deferments.

Bowers and Brown agreed that the salary deferments that Tomich, Yannotti, Mitchell, Williams and the other nine Irvington Police Division officers who were promoted on July 27, 2016, were done in good faith and for the benefit of the town.

“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. So it sort of balances out. In the end, it balances out.”

In April 2017, however, the Vauss administration announced that independent auditors hired to review the township’s finances and financial records had uncovered a $3.25 million deficit for the Calendar Year 2015 budget and the only way to remedy that fiscal shortfall was to ask all the municipal employees, especially the police and fire divisions, to accept furloughs, layoffs and salary givebacks that later morphed into “deferments” of another sort, involving all salaried and hourly employees, who agreed to accept 24 total payments in a year, instead of the 26 that they normally earned.

Those deferments that the Irvington Police Division’s Policemen’s Benevolent Association and Superior Officers Association and the Irvington Fire Division’s Superior Officers Association agreed to technically did not include the 18-month salary deferments to which all those promoted on July 27 had agreed. The Irvington Fire Division’s FMBA union, which represents the division’s rank-and-file firefighters, were the only municipal employees bargaining unit that did not accept and agree to the Vauss administration’s salary deferments deal.

The 18-month salary deferments also appeared to be problematic for the July 27, 2016, promotees after it was revealed Irvington had $2.4 million budget deficits in the Calendar Year 2016 and 2017 township budgets, and the Calendar Year 2017 budget contained a 1.5 percent tax increase that officials said was unrelated to those deficits, yet nevertheless necessary.

“The people’s taxes didn’t go up because of this,” said Vauss on Tuesday, Oct. 17. “The employees got together and we closed the deficit, which is an amazing feat in itself, to get all these bargaining units to give money, all for the benefit of the taxpayers, because they don’t want the taxpayers’ taxes to go up. We don’t want the taxpayers’ taxes to increase. We did it because it benefits the residents,”