Residents express concerns over public works, public safety positions

Multiple residents spoke out at this week’s township committee meeting about Township happenings.

Cinnaminson residents did not keep quiet at the most recent Township Committee meeting.

Marie Birbeck was one of many to request answers on the director of public safety and director of public works positions. After asking some questions, such as how many applications were received, in regard to the director of public works position, Birbeck expressed concern over current director of public safety Michael King’s lengthy reign.

“It’s taken at least six years to cultivate a police chief. This composition that you’re requesting to go onto the agenda has a captain but doesn’t have a chief,” Birbeck said, referring to the ordinance introduced earlier in the meeting that would restructure the police department to allow for a police captain as well as additional officers and sergeants.

Committeeman John McCarthy replied the restructuring of the police department is a step toward selecting a chief. He added once a chief has been selected, the director of public safety position would likely cease to exist.

Birbeck asked if the car the township provided King with would be returned once King is no longer the director of public safety, and McCarthy confirmed it would.

King was hired in 2011 and, as many residents pointed out, originally planned to appoint a police chief within three years. Six years later, residents are getting frustrated.

Committeeman Ben Young says a chief has not yet been selected due to unforeseen “shortcomings” in the department that King has been working to improve.

“He was hired to do more than just find and train a new police chief,” Young said. “He was hired to evaluate the department, operate the department and assess it.”

In addition to being the director of public safety, King is also the township administrator. His combined salary is more than $150,000, which some residents feel is excessive. McCarthy said King’s salary is far less than what would be paid if two people were to hold the positions separately.

Resident Kelly Huber also spoke on the director of public safety position in regard to a reported phone conversation between a Cinnaminson police officer and Committeeman Donald Brauckmann that is under investigation.

The conversation was reported via email to King by the officer and was detailed by McCarthy at the last committee work session meeting. The phone call reportedly started as a request for assistance with the new township email system, then the officer says Brauckmann asked if he was alone and if he had heard anything in regard to being promoted to lieutenant.

The officer went on to say Brauckmann told him his plan was to get the officer promoted to lieutenant, then appoint a police chief after a year or two.

Huber pointed out both King and Township CFO Julia Edmondson were approached by previous Committeewoman Kathy Fitzpatrick about filling open positions — the same position they hold today.

“Didn’t Don [Brauckmann] do the same kind of thing, seeking out who could possibly be a chief?” Huber asked.

McCarthy responded by saying when Fitzpatrick contacted King and Edmondson, she was the liaison to administration.

Mayor Anthony Minniti added the policies have since been changed.

“Specific committee policies were laid out to remove the appearance of undue influence of elected officials on our professional staff,” Minniti said, adding Fitzpatrick’s actions had a lot to do with the decision and he couldn’t say much more due to the ongoing investigation.

“When the investigation concludes, it will be public, and all the questions and more will be answered,” Minniti said.

Resident William Conley express his concern over the director of public works position Young applied for. According to Conley, Young is set to receive a pension of $2,600 per year. If Young were appointed to director of public works for three years, his pension would increase, as the pension formula includes an average of your three highest salaried years. Conley estimated Young’s pension would amount to $15,000 to $20,000 per year if he were to become director of public works.

“Ben Young has served in this community for 20-plus years. He knows this township inside and out,” McCarthy said. “Why can’t Ben Young get a little more in his pension?”

Conley responded the pension will come out of residents’ pockets and tax dollars.

“If we don’t have the right to stand up and say ‘no’ to you or anybody else spending our tax dollars, then we’re done, and I, for one, won’t be done yet,” Conley said.

Brauckmann commended the full courthouse for showing up and asking questions about what’s going on in the township.

“Never let your intimidation restrict your freedom of speech,” Brauckmann said. “Stay involved, ask questions and continue to express your opinion about how your township operates and works for you, the people. That’s the most important thing.”

Committeeman Howard “Bud” Evans cautioned committee on recent public conduct displayed at the work session meeting in regard to the conversation between Brauckmann and the police officer.

“If these conditions persist, I see bad times ahead for the residents of Cinnaminson and the legislative body,” Evans said. “I don’t know when, where or how this issue started and I don’t care but it’s going to end. It’s going to end now.”

Evans added that, as he said at his reorganization speech, committee should succeed or fail as a unit, not as individuals.

“If we aim for perfection in our efforts, we may not attain it, we may not achieve it, but we will bypass excellence on our route and that is what Cinnaminson deserves.”

In other news:

King clarified why the police department’s cleaning staff was recently fired. When he noticed the garbage cans were overflowing on Monday morning, he called the department’s cleaning company, and they assured him the staff was coming in late Friday and Saturday night to clean. Upon further investigation and camera monitoring from the detective bureau, the department discovered the cleaning staff was not showing up to work, but had been charging the department for cleaning costs. They were fired and charged criminally for theft of services, according to King.