Tale of the tape: Promotions voided

LYNDHURST

Blame it on the quality of the videotape.

Six township police promotions have been put on hold because the taped interviews of candidates for the higher ranks were deemed to be unintelligible.

And that finding has led to a decision by the new police commissioner to at least delay the promotions.

Because the six individuals were appointed May 1 in an acting capacity, to take effect in 60 days, all six “will maintain their current rank,” according to newly appointed township attorney Carmine Alampi.

Meanwhile, Mayor/Police Commissioner Robert Giangeruso will be appointing a three-member committee to review the Lyndhurst Police Department promotion policy and “organize standards” to decide how to proceed from here, Alampi said.

Whether the same people who were designated to get the promotions will end up getting them or whether others will, is unknown at this point.

The situation came to light at a special meeting of the township governing body last Friday, June 23, when the Board of Commissioners emerged from a half-hour private caucus to question Police Chief John O’Connor.

Alampi asked the chief if he was still “in possession of the CD tapes” that recorded the interviews with the police candidates and if he “continue[d] to maintain them” and O’Connor replied in the affirmative.

The chief said he conducted the interviews by himself and then-Police Commissioner John Montillo in a room at police headquarters where “we later found there was audio interference” from a nearby air-conditioning unit.

Giangeruso said that he and the chief recently “looked at the videos and I couldn’t understand them.  … It just wasn’t clear.”

Later, Giangeruso who was restored as police director at the township board of commissioners May 16 reorganization meeting following the May 9 municipal election — and Alampi offered further perspective background on the situation to The Observer.

To get up to speed on developments in the LPD, Giangeruso said he asked to view the videos on Friday, June 16. “There were 25 interviews done,” he said. 

At this point, Alampi continued the discussion, explaining that O’Connor and Montillo were using a questionnaire from which they would randomly choose “three or four” questions to pose to a candidate, not necessarily the same each time, so the procedure “wasn’t uniform or very extensive.”

Alampi said the chief and Montillo did the interviews “in a room next to the chief’s office” where they apparently “didn’t realize how sensitive” the space would be in terms of not filtering out extraneous sounds. Consequently, he said, “you couldn’t hear the officers’ answers.”

Alampi said the township’s newly adopted municipal budget contains sufficient funds for the “pay differential total” needed to cover the promotions for the balance of the year.

On the average, he said, there is a differential of $8,000 to $12,000 per individual for the higher rank which, he added, translates to about $60,000 annually so only about $30,000 will suffice to cover the last six months of the year.    

The individuals who were designated for “acting” appointments on May 1 were: Lt. Michael Carino, to captain; Sgt. Rick Pizzutti, to lieutenant; Officers Nick Coviello, Vince Auteri and James Goral, to sergeant; and Officer Rich Holicki, to detective.

Montillo was asked by The Observer if he felt the action taken by Giangeruso was justified and the commissioner replied that, as the current head of the police department, Giangeruso “had the authority” to do what he felt was appropriate for that department.

Asked about the interview process in which he participated, Montillo said: “I did not see the videotapes that the mayor saw. I found out today [June 23], just like you.”

Meanwhile, the subject of electronic recording came up as the commissioners began their meeting when an unidentified man who had set up a tripod and camera to record the public session was told by the mayor to cease and desist because he had “no permission to do a video of the meeting.”

The man then complied.

In other business, the commissioners voted to adopt the 2017 municipal budget after a public hearing at which no one from the public spoke. (The fact that the commissioners were meeting at 10 a.m. may have been a contributory factor.)

In any event, the budget calls for total appropriations of $39,355,501, of which $31,825,178 must be raised locally. The local tax levy is down from last year’s $32,689,464 a 2.4% decrease of about $864,000 which, according to township CFO Robert Benecke, would translate to the owner of an “average” house assessed at $305,000 paying $89 less in taxes on the municipal portion of the budget.

Benecke credited “revenue enhancements” such as higher fees collected by the township for construction permits and the like with contributing to boosting Lyndhurst’s fiscal resources. 

The budget anticipates a $1 million surplus account, along with about $6.1 million in debt service and about $3 million as reserve for uncollected taxes.

In personnel matters, the commissioners appointed various professionals: Carmine L. Alampi LLC of Hackensack as township attorney at the rate of $175 per hour (no cap set); Chasen, Lamparello, Mallon & Cappuzzom PC of Secaucus as special counsel for tax appeals at the rate of $150 per hour for state court matters, $175 an hour for federal court cases and $75 an hour for “law clerk/paralegals”; Verraioli, Wielkotz, Cerullo & Cuva of Pompton Lakes as auditor at the rate of $75,000 plus up to $8,500 for assistant in preparation of budget and up to $9,500 for preparing the unaudited annual financial statement and debt statement; and Neglia Engineering Associates of Lyndhurst as township engineer at specified hourly billing rates (no cap set).

The commissioners also named Kevin Cuneo as interim deputy court administrator (no salary listed) for a one-year probationary period, effective June 19, and appointed Annette Mazure as acting registrar of vital statistics and Krisin Collette as deputy registrar, effective immediately (no salaries listed).

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.