As chiefs retire, council could opt for public safety director

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Brigantine Brigantine

Members of Brigantine’s City Council have been discussing the possibility of formally appointing a public safety director in lieu of naming individual chiefs for the Fire and Police departments and the Beach Patrol. The position of public safety officer has been vacant since the retirement of city manager Jim Barber in August, 2011.

The current discussion is prompted by a unique situation in Brigantine. The Fire Department is being headed by acting Chief Jim Holl while the previous chief Jim Frugoli is taking “terminal leave,” Police Chief John Stone has notified the city that he will be retiring in March, and Brigantine City Beach Patrol Chief Joe Guenther has recently retired.

Council members say the opportunity to combine three positions into one should be explored, particularly in view of the strained municipal budget due to the impact of Superstorm Sandy and the loss of ratables.

A review of salaries for the three positions, supplied by the city’s personnel department, show the following.

Acting Fire Chief Holl is receiving “Acting out of Title” pay at 12 percent above a captain’s salary. Holl’s base salary is $122,835 – with longevity and holidays his gross is $144,398. (The fire department is also paying four captain’s salaries at an average of $127,883 each.) The base salary for Police Chief is $129,844 – with longevity, this rises to a gross of $144,533. The salary for Beach Patrol Chief is $27,053.

“It’s the time to do it, if we are ever going to do it, as we have the three positions open,” said Councilman Rick DeLucry when asked for his thoughts on the change. “It never hurts to ask the questions. We need to explore the alternatives and get more information in order to make an informed judgment.”

Mayor Guenther said he was not in favor of putting three departments under one head.

“I don’t believe we need to add another administrative layer. I believe we have competent individuals in our departments,” he said.

In Guenther’s opinion, a public safety director “would not be able to run day-to-day operations” since each department has restrictions which would limit the effectiveness of a single director.

“I personally saw the need of the chiefs to command during the recent storm,” he said. “I don’t believe we would save any money, as many think, because the savings would be eaten up by overtime.”

Captains are paid overtime, while chiefs are not.

City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal, who is deep in negotiations with the police union, lifeguards and blue-collar unions, says she supports looking into the city’s options.

“It is a unique opportunity for Brigantine to consider the possibilities. If we do it, this is the time to consider it,” she said.

The city is not scheduled to negotiate with the firefighters union until next year, but talks have taken place concerning potential contract changes.

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