This letter to the editor was submitted by Scotch Plains Councilman Bo Vastine.
Dear Residents of Scotch Plains & Fanwood,
Members of the Scotch Plains and Fanwood town councils are set to meet on October 21st for a joint council session to discuss the upcoming potential police merger with the public. What was proposed to us on the Scotch Plains Council was, “an information update session”. From what I have seen in the press, it has now been transformed into “merger plan unveiling” and what amounts to nothing more than a pre-election campaign stunt where political candidates will attempt to sell an ill-conceived police merger plan with too many unanswered questions and the potential for long range costs to far exceed any potential initial savings.
Let me be clear – and I do not say this lightly…the plan being proposed by the merger subcommittee is not the answer to controlling costs for Scotch Plains and will only serve to create more financial uncertainty. Calls for a police merger under the format being proposed must be resisted by the public and the affected police departments. I have come to this conclusion after maintaining a very open mind throughout this process. Early on, when Mayor Malool came out publically against the “Joint Meeting” structure…I said that we needed to keep all options on the table. After careful analysis and full consideration, hearing from involved and interested parties…weighing the benefits against the risk, I agree with Mayor Malool and cannot support this approach.
The public and the police are being asked to support a plan that disbands two police departments in favor of establishing what is known as a “Joint Meeting.”
This Joint Meeting will be an additional level of government overseen by 3 politically appointed individuals with full control over the new department and little to no oversight from the towns. This politically appointed group will have full control over the finances, personnel, contract negotiations, staffing levels, and all other issues related to the business of running a police department and providing our public safety.
What you won’t hear at the upcoming joint meeting/campaign event is that nearly 20 towns in New Jersey have entered into police shared service agreements and after carefully exploring ALL of their options NONE has ever decided to establish the joint meeting structure that you are now being told is our only choice. Every other New Jersey municipality that decided to share police services developed an arrangement where one town’s police department joins their neighboring town. In this more logical approach, two police departments are not being dissolved in favor of creating a new level of government overseen by politically appointed individuals. Instead, one disbands in favor of joining another and normally the officers from the smaller community join the larger department.
In this more traditional merger approach, the savings are high and the costs are more fixed and easily defined. Furthermore, there is less of a chance for political interference in the day to day operations of the department. More importantly, while council members run for office and make unfulfilled promises, (see disbanding the sewer utility) professionally trained managers oversee the daily operations lessening the chance for political meddling into police and public safety affairs.
Conversely, in the illogical approach currently being pushed, the politically appointed commission members only serve for one year assuring the likelihood for staggering turnover, creating instability and low morale within the police department.
At the meeting on the 21st you will hear a sales pitch from people telling you that this is the best thing to happen to both communities. Some of those pitching this plan are running for office, some will be running for higher office in the future, and some may seek to be appointed to professional positions within the new organization…IF they can fool the public into supporting the establishment of this new layer of government. Some have even gone so far as to instruct those directly affected, to look the other way…while they attempt to use sleight of hand to convince everyone in both towns that this is great.
Ask questions. Ask why after careful study in every other New Jersey municipality that has established a shared service for police services declined to use the “Joint Meeting” option being proposed. Ask why you were never shown a detailed example of the other alternatives. Ask why it is o.k. to turn police operations over to a politically appointed group of commissioners who do not have professional training in this area. Ask why it is o.k. to establish an autonomous group who without proper checks and balances could find it operating like an out of control improvement authority.
Just ask if this option is really the best option. After careful review of this plan, its pitfalls, and an analysis of the alternatives, the answer is a resounding NO. Don’t be fooled by election year politics and highly paid professionals with agendas who are attempting to ram this down your throats under the guise of a nominal savings. Resist the urge to create this new level of unnecessary government.
I want to reduce taxes and control costs as much as anyone…but just like the budget gimmicks this year in Scotch Plains…the “Joint Meeting” will end up costing us more than we save down the road. The real solution for both towns is a traditional merger or shared service. The residents, police officers and the public safety of Scotch Plains and Fanwood deserve to have all of the options presented, not campaign style presentations which limit our options.
Township of Scotch Plains Council