Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Police Merger Rejected

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Police Merger Rejected

Article excerpt

The effort to merge Bergen County law enforcement into a mega- department came to a decisive end Wednesday when the freeholders defeated an ordinance to dissolve the county police into the Sheriff's Office.

By a vote of 3-2 with two abstentions, the board rejected the move to disband the 89-member county police force, proposed as a cost-saving measure, after a tense evening that capped more than a year of hotly contested debate.

The vote to end the 95-year-old department would have faced an almost certain court challenge and a veto from County Executive Kathleen Donovan.

Donovan vowed during a tense and angry freeholder work session earlier in the evening that the ordinance -- which she termed "idiotic" -- would never be implemented.

"This farce, in which you have been engaging in for the last year, has no weight and will not stand," Donovan told the board and a packed standing-room-only crowd of 70 people gathered in the freeholder caucus room.

But Freeholder Chairman John Mitchell, like Donovan a Republican, said the time had come for the board to vote after a year of intensive debate and two contradictory studies.

"Look we're going over old ground," Mitchell said. "Let's take a vote on this ordinance."

The ordinance calls for immediately disbanding the county police, transferring its functions to the Sheriff's Office and directing Donovan to work out a plan to make it happen.

The merger was first suggested in a study done by Guidepost Solution, a consultant. Mitchell pushed for Wednesday's vote.

Donovan has sued the freeholders, arguing that they do not have the right under the county executive form of government to disband a department without her consent.

Last month, Bergen County Superior Court Judge Menelaos Toskos ruled that the freeholders lacked the authority to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot. But Toskos refused to overturn the ordinance until after the freeholders gave it their final approval.

Wednesday's debate over the ordinance was often loud and blunt.

Donovan clashed repeatedly with Sheriff Michael Saudino, who had been her GOP running mate when they were elected in November 2010. …

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