NJ Civil Service now approves layoff of former police chief

IRVINGTON, NJ — According to Mayor Tony Vauss, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission has changed its opinion about Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase’s job title and status with the Irvington Police Department.

“The layoff plan was approved,” said Vauss on Saturday, March 5, during a break in the action at East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor’s third annual Mayor’s Ball at the Castle Sheraton Hotel in Parsippany. “Contrary to some folks’ belief, Chief Chase was not terminated. He’s actually out on vacation. It’s just that the chief of police position was abolished, so he wasn’t the chief of police. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t employed or still getting paid by the township. So Civil Service approved the layoff plan that was issued by the township of Irvington.”

Vauss said he can’t say too much about Chase’s Civil Service issues because the chief has filed a lawsuit regarding the matter. The mayor said he’s always hesitant to comment on the record when there is pending litigation involved, but said he wanted to set the record straight about Chase’s employment status with Irvington and his administration.

“We’re not out to hurt anybody,” said Vauss. “We follow the rules in Irvington. We’re just following the process. We received the correspondence from the Prosecutor’s Office and that is the reason that the police chief’s position got abolished when it was abolished.”

The mayor’s remarks referenced a letter from New Jersey Civil Service Commission Division of Agency Services Director Kenneth Connolly dated Feb. 26, and received by the township March 3. This letter constituted a 180-degree turnaround from a letter dated Tuesday, Feb. 2, which the state agency initially sent Irvington regarding the abolishment of Chase’s position in the Irvington Police Department.

Chase’s job was eliminated due to an ordinance approved by the council to facilitate the creation of the new Public Safety Department. Chase is being represented by attorney Joshua L. Weiner of Hill Wallack LLP in a lawsuit related to the validity of that ordinance and the new chain of command.

According to Weiner, it is against New Jersey law and Civil Service law to abolish the police chief position from the Irvington Police Department chain of command while there is a chief of police employed in that job with that title with all the corresponding powers and responsibilities.

The chief received a letter dated Friday, Jan. 15, ordering him to turn in his badge, gun and other materials by Tuesday, Jan. 19. Chase complied with that deadline, but then filed a complaint with New Jersey Civil Service.

When the agency responded Tuesday, Feb. 2, it seemed to agree with Chase and Weiner; however, on Friday, Feb. 26, the agency responded again, this time in favor of the Vauss administration.

In the most recent letter, Connolly states that the town is “in compliance with the provisions of N.J.A.C. 4A:8-1.4, and a layoff plan is hereby approved. The approved plan proposes a layoff date effective close of business, May 11, 2016. In order to meet the time frame the township of Irvington has established for the layoff, the general and individual 45-day notices must be served to the employee no later than March 28, 2016 — at least 45 days prior to the effective date of the layoff.”

The letter goes on to state that, “The ‘general 45-day notices’ must be conspicuously posted in all facilities of the affected organizational units and must be personally served on all employees whose positions may be affected by the layoff in the department. I ask that you keep this office advised of any contemplated or actual changes in the scope or timing of the layoff, so that we are able to efficiently allocate our resources and make determinations with the best available information.”

However, Chase said it’s not over yet. He and his lawyer in this matter, Joseph Donahue, appeared in court Tuesday, March 8, to receive a ruling on their effort to have the town show cause for dismissal from the Irvington Police Department.

“Stay tuned,” said Chase on Tuesday, March 8.