Key Englewood Positions in Flux

 

Thursday, December 6, 2007

By MAYA KREMEN
STAFF WRITER

ENGLEWOOD -- The Police Department is being run by an acting chief. The city manager is a temp. And the schools superintendent is resigning Jan. 1.

Add that to a Health Department that is operating without a health officer and you have a city without permanent employees in key leadership positions.

City officials say there are competent people watching over the open jobs. But in the meantime, there have been ripple effects.

• The interim city manager works part time and says he doesn't have time to address some systemic issues.

• The Health Department's lack of a qualified health officer lost the city $9,000 in state grants.

• And although acting Police Chief Arthur O'Keefe has provided "consistent, strong leadership," Policemen's Benevolent Association President Fred Pulice added that officers were eager for final word on the chief situation.

Chief David Bowman has been suspended since he was indicted in 2004 on charges that he falsified documents. Last month, a jury found Bowman not guilty of all charges, but the city decided to review the case to see if there was any questionable conduct.

"Most people would like to see a resolution," Pulice said. "I can't think of anyone who works for an organization who likes to see it unsettled."

The city's review of Bowman's case could lead to a hearing that would further delay a resolution to the police chief status. The city will decide about the hearing by the end of the week, Casey said. O'Keefe receives a base salary of $147,000.

Even if an interim employee is capable, he might not have as much leeway to make long-term decisions, said Mitchell C. Sklar, head of the state Association of Chiefs of Police.

"It's a tough time for a department if an administrative head is facing uncertainty," he said. "It might be harder to make long-term institutional changes."

City officials say it takes time to find qualified candidates for important positions.

Health Director Nelson Xavier Cruz said it has been difficult to find a licensed health officer. Council President Charlotte Bennett Schoen said the city manager job had been offered to qualified candidates who turned it down.

Interim City Manager Robert Casey has ample experience as a former city manager of Hackensack , and acting manager of Oakland , Bound Brook and Plainfield . Since he started in April at a cost of $90 per hour, he has led Englewood through a revaluation, ongoing police negotiations and budget drafting.

But he only works 25 hours a week, and his part-time status doesn't allow him to do a much-needed review of the city's code enforcement and the property maintenance code, he said.

"I'm concentrating on big-ticket issues, and that precludes me from doing other things I should look at," he said.

In addition to his daily duties, Casey was also put in charge of hiring a new city manager, which adds to his list of things to do. The city suspended the search when he went on vacation for a month.

Though Casey is a good manager, it isn't ideal for an interim administrator to make lasting decisions for a city, said Mayor Michael Wildes.

"The city manager has to make sure that they not only have institutional knowledge, but they plant seeds to ensure the city's economic vitality," he said. "When someone's not vested in a city, their interests are not long-term."

Hiring a replacement for Superintendent Carol Lisa, whose salary is $187,627, could take anywhere from a month to more than a year, said school board President Stephen Brown.

"We'd love to have that by May or June, but if it takes longer than that it does," Brown said. "My anticipation is that a good thorough search, which will be national in scope, will take much longer than that."

In the meantime, the board is looking to hire an interim superintendent by Jan. 1.

At the Board of Health, a health officer is needed to make the department compliant with state standards.

The health board decided to hire Cruz at a salary of $100,000 earlier this year, despite the fact that he held no health officer's license. When an interim arrangement with Elmwood Park fell through, the city was left without a health officer.

Because they were out of compliance, the state declared them ineligible for a $9,000 health grant.

Cruz said the costs of not having a health officer were minimal.

"It's a small amount of money, and we're still able to function as a health department," he said.

But health board member Jerry Chambers said the loss of any money was too much.

"Any amount of money is significant and important in running a health department," he said. "For him to minimize it is absurd."

 

Reproduced from The Record
Thursday, December 6, 2007
by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood
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Englewood, NJ 07631
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