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Ortley Beach & North Beaches

Toms River Council Rescinds Recalled Police Restructuring Ordinance, Mayor Claims He Doesn’t Need It

A Toms River Police EMS rig sits atop the dunes in the township’s barrier island. (Photo: Toms River Police EMS)

A Toms River Police EMS rig sits atop the dunes in the township’s barrier island. (Photo: Toms River Police EMS)

An ordinance that would restructure some aspects of the Toms River Police Department and reallocate the funding to the hiring of eight EMTs was successfully recalled by a committee of residents, Township Clerk Mike Cruoglio confirmed at a township council meeting Wedneday night, however Mayor Dan Rodrick said he would move forward with the plan regardless of the fate of the ordinance.

The fate of the ordinance was, indeed, quickly decided by council members, who voted 7-0 to rescind the restructuring measure that eliminates two captains, two patrolmen and the department’s public information officer. If the council had not rescinded the ordinance, it would have been placed on the ballot as a referendum question for residents to decide. Phil Brilliant, one of the organizers of the recall committee, said over 5,000 signatures were obtained – over and above the approximately 3,000 required for passage.

Rodrick said he advised council members to rescind the ordinance rather than fight the recall effort in court. He claimed there were irregularities with the way signatures were collected at businesses and other civic events without elaborating on what, exactly, may have been defective with the recall. Legally, however, Cruoglio is responsible for the certification of the recall document and said there were more than enough signatures collected and legally reviewed.

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After the council rescinded the ordinance, Rodrick said the effort would not matter since he has executive authority to make the changes himself.

“I never needed the ordinance,” Rodrick said. “It is the administration’s right to determine the staffing of the police department and that is what we will do. The people cannot wait 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.”

Rodrick has framed the restructuring measure as a cost-savings initiative to reallocate funds that would normally go toward two captains, compensated at about $200,000 per year plus benefits, to hire eight EMTs who would staff one extra on-call rig 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The addition of an ambulance was notionally directed at providing extra coverage for the barrier island portion of the township, where residents have complained about long wait times for ambulances to arrive from the mainland – sometimes as far away as Silverton – if no rigs were already on the east side of the Route 37 bridge.

Many residents, however, have said the township could afford to fully staff the police department and organize a shared services agreement with another agency to provide better coverage for the island and more coverage for the township in general. The consequences of failing to backfill two open captains’ positions on the police roster, they argue, affects staffing down the chain of command and would result in at least one fewer patrolman on duty. Some have also raised liability concerns over a lack of supervisory officers.

Rodrick dismissed opponents of the plan as special interest groups associated with police unions and supporters of former mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill, who Rodrick defeated in a bitter GOP primary race last year. He also said he has been holding discussions with the union representing EMTs, also known as Community Service Officers. Applications for new EMTs are already available online at several job search websites.

Rodrick said the township will seek both part-time and full-time EMTs to be paid at $30 to $35 per hour, with a starting full-time salary of $62,000, the highest in the state.

Rodrick said the issue has been decided since the existing ordinance sets a maximum number of captains and other police staff levels, but not a minimum. Therefore, he said, there is no legal responsibility for him to promote new officers into the captain rank, the most superior rank under the department’s chief and deputy chief.

“With or without this ordinance, the captains are not coming back, and we are going to be putting more EMTs on the road,” he said.

The all-GOP council is currently divided between two party factions – a majority of five members who ran on a ticket with Rodrick, and two members who previously ran with Hill and are in the middle of their terms.

“I still support the mayor’s plan not to backfill these two positions,” said Council Vice President Lynn O’Toole. “Their salaries are outrageous … meanwhile our seniors are waiting up to 30 minutes for an ambulance. It’s bloody outrageous.”

After heckling emanated from the audience, O’Toole scolded, “I listened to you, now you listen to me.”

Councilman David Ciccozzi, who is not aligned with Rodrick, thanked community members for organizing the recall petition.

“God bless you all – you did the right thing,” he said. “More petitions can come down the road, and I salute everybody in here. You had the courage to stand up, and you were heard. Thank you.”

Rodrick said the department will consist of 113 patrolmen, and that number could not be exceeded without backfilling the upper-level captain positions. The township could, however, hire Class II special officers, who are armed when on duty and have similar police powers to regular sworn officers.

“We are a family town with a massive senior population,” Rodrick said in support of his plan to hire more EMTs. “We need to do better for our families and our seniors. We need more boots on the ground.”

At least one member of the public vowed, after Rodrick spoke, to organize a recall election of the mayor himself later this year. Rodrick did not comment on the threat of his own position being up for a recall vote.

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