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Atlantic City Fire and Police Chiefs Join Forces To Sue Mayor and Council

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.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • John K. Murphy

    I read the court filing and would concur that there are a couple of issues. First, there is a clear breach of contract between the fire and police chief under the MOU and employment contracts. Second, mayors are not professional’s in the sense that they are elected by a popular majority and most of the time have worked in other private sector employment which does not give them a sense of what public safety leaders are supposed to do. Third, this looks like the Westbury issue whereas the Mayor has an ax to grind and in lieu of working issues out with the fire and police chief’s he will appoint a public safety director (most likely a friend) to oversee the actions of his public safety leaders. This is a bad direction on part of the mayor and clearly a waste of City money. The last mayor of Atlantic City resigned under a cloud of suspicion that he lied about his military service and illegally collected veteran’s benefits. What skeletons are in this mayors closet? This is a gamble on the part of this new mayor and I would double down that he will loose this case.
    How can the fire chief and police chief work with the mayor after this filing? Difficult at best but good leaders will rise above the fray and continue to protect the public in spite of the legal challenges.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a62b3877970c Curt Varone

    Thanks John
    No doubt a difficult situation for the chiefs. I understand the NJ Police Chiefs have come out in support of the police chief and the NJ Fire Chiefs are supporting the fire chief.

  • Kevin Farley

    What would lead city officals to believe that the 2008 contract is “null and void?”
    If city officals are allowed to disregard contracts they find inconvient with impunity,that would set an amazingly dangerous precedent.