Donovan Sues Freeholders to Stop County Police Merger

County executive says freeholder vote jeopardized public safety.

Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan filed a lawsuit Thursday against the county freeholders to block a second reading of an ordinance that would dissolve the county police, and prevent a ballot question on merging the department with the sheriff's office. 

The legal action to put a non-binding referendum on the November ballot asking if the county police should be merged with the sheriff's office. Freeholders also passed an ordinance on first reading to immediately disband the police department and . 

The Donovan administration had vowed to challenge the votes in court. 

In a statement, the county executive said the freeholders have no authority to dissolve a county department. The referendum vote was improper because it came by resolution, not an ordinance, and at a special meeting rather than a regular public meeting, the suit claims. 

"The County Executive is responsible for all departments and their organization and, as such, and pursuant to applicable law, the Freeholder Board lacks the power to unilaterally dissolve the County Police,” the suit says. 

In a statement, Donovan said the suit was motivated by public safety. 

"It is too important a matter to the taxpayers and the safety of all the residents of Bergen County," Donovan said. "The Freeholders have a different, important role to play, but the actions taken last week were wrong and jeopardize the safety and security of the citizens of Bergen County.”

Freeholder Board Attorney Richard Malagiere was not immediately available for comment. A board spokesman could not be reached for comment. 

Freeholder David Ganz, a Fair Lawn Democrat, said the New Jersey Supreme Court has previously ruled that referendums can be placed on the ballot through a resolution and not necessarily an ordinance, citing a case between the AFL-CIO and Bergen County, as well as a Mercer County case.

"I don't think hers is meritorious," Ganz said of Donovan's suit. "It sounds like an act of desperation. Why the county executive wouldn't want to hear what the people have to say is beyond me."

Ganz said the Donovan lawsuit isn't really the issue for the process to move forward, as he would oppose a second reading of the ordinance to dissolve the county police until after a referendum takes place. 

"I thought I made very clear at the last meeting of the freeholders on Friday that I would not vote for a second reading [of the ordinance to dissolve the county police] unless a referendum takes place and the listening tour has concluded."

"I voted to introduce [the ordinance] not because I approve it or disapprove it but because I want upfront for everybody to understand what the importance would be if a referendum was completed. The freeholders concluded it was wise to proceed."

Ganz and Freeholder Joan Voss, a Fort Lee Democrat, on the merger issue. 

"I'm primarily interested in the referendum for November...I want to hear more information," Voss said. 


A copy of the lawsuit is attached to this article. 

Updated 5:29 p.m. Check back for updates on the developing story. 

USAUSA August 26, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Listen Pol boy I was not debating the sheriff's spending habits at all. I am aware he is just another elected official, but so is Donovan and that was my point they both waste money and hire people that not only do not deserve the jobs but are grossly underqualified!
PolWatcher August 26, 2012 at 05:47 PM
But what do your comments have to do with the topic: which is whether to disband the county police and create a larger sheriff's department? If the sheriff is as yousay, just another elected official, why would you want to give him more power and more manpower? Wouldn't that just end up costing us all more in the long run?
USAUSA August 26, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I was responding to AVG Joe's comment...So you believe that having two police forces in the county is cost effective? I personally would like the sheriffs office as I stated many times in this blog should control the courts and the jails and leave the expert police work to the Bergen County police. But since the sheriff's office has the upper hand and consititutionally his office has the right to have it all we as a county have to suffer and pay for it. And Donovan is just looking out for her self, she should have played nice with her running mate Rep sheriff and this might not be an issue!!! She was a fool when it came time to meet with him alone.
PolWatcher August 26, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Aside from your obvious dislike of Donovan, you have nothing logical to bring to the argument.The sheriff's department does not have the upper hand constitutionally -- their duty is to provide court security and to act as jail guards. In some counties the sheriff does not even control the jail; the jail is controlled by an independent warden and a department of corrections. So, why not take the jail away from the sheriff? As for your other comment, how do you know what happened when they met alone? were you there? he's a big tough law enforcement guy, and are you telling me he is afraid of Kathleen Donovan? Don't you find this entire argument getting silly?
USAUSA August 26, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Ah you are one of Donovans minions. So let's be very clear I do not dislike Donovan as a whole, I voted for her but I dislike her constant litigous nature both for and against. It is a common problem across the board. First off who cares about other counties, we are in Bergen County and all that matters is what goes on here, correct? So if the sheriffs office does not have the upper hand in this matter why does Donovan have to sue? Why is it the sheriff, sad as it maybe, have have all the money he wants to spend on dupicating police services, K9's, scuba, bomb, swap, patrol ect.? Please take away the jail from the sheriff, that sir has nothing to do with the what is going on. I was adding my opinion on what the I think the sheriff's office should be responsable for that is all. I see I answer your questions and you do not answer mine? I know what happened because it was in the paper and both sides commented on why they did not meet. Donovan wanted her minion in the room and the sheriff wanted to meet alone and if she could not do that he would not meet her, now this is when the battle started don't you think? If I am not mistaken this is not an argument it is a spirited debate. Oh an it seems that Donovan has lost the freeholders and is losing this battle. I'd honestly hate to see the men and women of the county police lose their jobs but something needs to be done, we are wasting money.


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