Over the years, there have been a number of fire service lawsuits that have left me shaking my head, but a recent suit filed by the fire chief and the police chief of Atlantic City, New Jersey AGAINST the city, the mayor and the city council now stands head and shoulders above the others.
The suit involves the creation of a public safety director to oversee the Atlantic City police and fire departments, something that (according to the plaintiffs) is prohibited by state and local law, and is in clear violation of the employment contracts of both Police Chief John J. Mooney III and Fire Chief Dennis Brooks.
There are two aspects to the case that are intriguing. First, why would politicians ignore what appears to be clear contractual language and clear statutory provisions to accomplish what ever greater good they believe a public safety director will offer? Is it arrogance? Do they believe they are above the law? Do circumstances justify them ignoring the law, rather than advocating a change in the law?
As it turns out, the contractual provisions that prohibit the appointment of a public safety director in Atlantic City were executed in November, 2008 by outgoing Mayor Scott Evans who signed new contracts for Mooney and Brooks. The newly elected mayor, Lorenzo Langford had promised major changes during his campaign that included establishing a public safety director. Accordingly, Atlantic City officials consider the contractual provisions signed in November, 2008 to be null and void. No word on their interpretation of the statutes that Mooney and Brooks claim prohibit a public safety director.
Second, how can a fire chief and a police chief possibly expect to be able to have an ongoing working relationship with the Mayor and city council after having sued them? The only explanation that makes sense is that Mooney and Brooks believe that the relationship is all but over, and only the law suit will save their jobs.
The new public safety director’s position was formally created on February 10, 2010, and the new director (former Jersey City Police Lieutenant Christine M. Petersen) was appointed on March 1, 2010. The suit was filed on March 29, 2010.
For the legal eagles, here is a copy of the 27 page complaint filed in New Jersey Superior Court by the chiefs. Download Atlantic City Complaint This one may take a while to sort out.