Bowers approved unanimously as first public safety director

IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington Municipal Council unanimously voted to confirm former police Director Tracy Bowers as Irvington’s first public safety director Tuesday, Nov. 24, according to Mayor Tony Vauss and the Municipal Clerk’s Office.

“The vote was unanimous,” said an employee in the Municipal Clerk’s Office on Monday, Nov. 30.
On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, Vauss said he was thankful Bowers’ confirmation was unanimous, and that he was grateful for the support and cooperation he has received at every level of municipal government as his administration works to make Irvington clean and safe.

Vauss called the council’s vote a continuation of the positive changes in how the township handles public safety issues and concerns, beginning when the council voted on an ordinance to create the new Public Safety Department and its corresponding posts of director and deputy director. The two new positions are intended to replace the jobs of police director, police chief, fire director and fire chief. Vauss said the hierarchies within the Irvington Police and Fire departments would remain the same.

According to Vauss, the overall goal is to streamline public safety in Irvington, as the township moves forward. He also said he is aware that change can be difficult or scary to some people and the moves he has made were done with those individuals in mind.

“We’ll be able to eliminate the fire chief and the police chief positions, after they are vacated by the current office holders,” said Vauss. “We’re trying to transition those positions into one. It’s a savings, because we’re going to be consolidating salaries.”

However, Vauss added, “We’re not making too many changes. Tracy was already the police director; John Brown was already the fire director. … We wanted to make sure that we didn’t affect anyone in their current positions,” said Vauss. “We didn’t affect the chief of the Fire Department, the chief of the Police Department and the fire director yet. Those are the four positions that would have been impacted — police director; fire director, police chief and fire chief.”

Municipal Council President Charnette Frederic said Bowers’ confirmation vote was unanimous, because the council recognizes the Vauss administration’s “main objective is to keep Irvington clean and safe.” She said the township’s legislative branch of government shares those same goals as well.

“When the administration brought before us the Public Safety Department ordinance, we believe it is a great mechanism to keep Irvington safe,” said Frederic on Monday, Nov. 30. “Director Tracy Bowers brought many years of experience. Leading this new department should not be any different, other than thinking of the township as a whole. We support the administration, as we monitor the township’s crime level.”

And so far, Frederic said, “They are doing a great job, with a lot more to come in 2016.” She said she is looking forward to seeing the growth and progress of the Public Safety Department as it provides greater services to residents. Bowers is now no longer the police director, because that title and post doesn’t exist anymore.He could not be reached for comment by press time this week about his new appointment as public safety director and his confirmation by the Municipal Council.

Current police Chief Michael Chase went on the record, stating his opposition to the Public Safety Department ordinance at the council’s meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 14, prior to the second and final vote to approve it. At that meeting, he informed the Municipal Council that the ordinance violates established New Jersey state law by giving a public safety director powers at the local level prohibited by state statutes. Chase could not be reached for comment about Bowers’ confirmation as the new public safety director by press time this week.

According to Chase, N.J.S.40A:14-118 clearly states that civilians cannot exercise police powers; according to the new ordinance, the council is giving Bowers, who recently retired from the Irvington Police Department as a captain, the power to effect arrests and exercise other power expressly reserved for sworn members of law enforcement.

Chase said Bowers’ former powers as police director did not affect the Irvington Police Department’s day-to-day operations, but as public safety director, Bowers can do as he pleases in the Police Department.

According to the ordinance that created the Public Safety Department, the powers and duties of the public safety director include: administrator and head of Public Safety Department, subordinate to the business administrator and mayor; give reports to the mayor and Municipal Council twice a month or as requested by the council and provide said reports to the council at caucus and council meetings; attend the pre-council director’s meetings twice a month, unless sick or on vacation; draft and submit an annual budget for the Public Safety Department; supervise the deputy public safety director, chief of police and chief of fire; officiate COMSTAT; conduct and participate in training or instruction of, to or with any Public Safety Department personnel; supervise the Public Safety Department and be responsible for all other personnel therein; and be responsible for administration, regulation and, as appropriate authority, discipline of the Division of Police and Division of Fire.

According to the ordinance, “The person appointed as deputy director of Public Safety shall be qualified by training and experience for duties of the position.” A deputy director for the new Public Safety Department has not yet been appointed.