IRVINGTON, NJ — According to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, as of Tuesday, Feb. 2, Michael Chase is still the chief of police in Irvington and Chase is threatening to sue the administration and the township if his employment status is not clarified as soon as possible.
Chase is involved in a legal dispute with the township and Vauss administration regarding the Irvington Municipal Council’s recent vote to approve Ordinance No. B-8-1, which abolished the chief of police position from the Irvington Police Department’s chain of command. The ordinance is an amendment to Ordinance No. MC 3553, which the council formerly approved to facilitate the creation of the new Public Safety Department, combining the Irvington Police and Fire departments with the Parking Authority under one administrative umbrella.
New Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers sent the chief a letter dated Friday, Jan. 15, ordering him to turn in his badge, gun and other materials by Tuesday, Jan. 19. While Chase complied with that deadline, he also filed a complaint with New Jersey Civil Service and on Tuesday, Feb. 2, the agency formally responded to it.
Chase is being represented by attorney Joshua L. Weiner of Hill Wallack LLP in the lawsuit related to the ordinances; they contend 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 a chief of police is employed in the position.
The Civil Service Commission letter dated Tuesday, Feb. 2, appears to agree with Chase and Weiner. Addressing Mayor Tony Vauss and Business Administrator Musa A. Malik, state Civil Service Commission Assistant Director Joe Hill Jr. states in the letter: “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; Title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code. Thus, 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 on the situation from Vauss, Malik or Bowers by press time this week, but attorney Joseph R. Donahue had plenty to say.
Donahue is representing Chase in a departmental disciplinary hearing case regarding a report from Essex County Prosecutor’s Office charging him with violating the state Attorney General’s Guidelines for the Operation of Police Departments. As a result of this case, Chase was suspended in 2013, first without pay and then with pay.
In a letter dated Friday, Feb. 5, and addressed to township attorney Ramon Rivera, Donahue stated that “it is unclear what the township’s position is regarding Chief Chase’s employment with the township. According to the ordinance, the position of chief was abolished, effective Jan. 13, 2016. Director Bowers’ Jan. 15 letter ordered Chief Chase to turn in his service weapons, badges and any other ‘relevant material,’ thus stripping him of all police authority.”
Donahue goes on to state: “Director Bowers’ letter concludes by thanking Chief Chase for his ‘dedication and service over the many years.’ All of this suggests that Chief Chase was terminated and is now unemployed.”
“Please clarify the chief’s employment status immediately. If he is not an employee, why haven’t all of his disciplinary charges been dismissed and why hasn’t Chief Chase been paid all of his accumulated time and terminal leave? If Chief Chase is an employee, what is his job title and what is his job status?”
A final ruling in Chase’s first disciplinary hearing case is expected on or about Monday, Feb. 15.
Donahue said he wanted answers to all his questions about Chase’s employment answered before that ruling.