Despite his initial plans to retire from the Police Department on May 31, Eric Mason continues to work as the Cranford police chief, while simultaneously serving as the interim township administrator.
Mason's transition from police chief to fulltime township administrator has been put on hold due to confusion involving pension guidelines that could prevent the chief from collecting his full police benefits if he jumps directly from the Cranford Police Department into the role of full-time township administrator.
"We expected the May 31 date of having the new chief in place would slip and it has," Deputy Mayor Andis Kalnins said. "Chief Mason has not retired as we continue to try and get a decision from the state on our current situation and options. Chief Mason is continuing in the role as both chief of police and township administrator as we continue to wait to hear from the state. I am hoping that we have enough information by our next meeting, June 11, so that the Township Committee can decide on a course of action and a new timeline."
According to the new 2012 pension board rules, an employee who plans to collect pension benefits through the Police and Firemen's Retirement System must have "bona fide severance from employment," which means "a complete termination of the employee's employment relationship with the employer for a period of at least 180 days." Employment, reemployment or "termination of employment with a pre-arranged agreement for reemployment" does not constitute a "bona fide severance," according to the pension board.
Had he retired on May 31 and immediately taken over the position of township administrator as originally planned, he would not have had the "bona fide severance from employment" that the state pension board requires. Mason's pensions would come from two different sources: the Police and Fire Retirement System and the Public Employees Retirement System, which funds municipal employees. His medical benefits will also be paid for by the township when he retires.
Kalnins said Mason has yet to officially file his retirement paperwork with the state.
"To the best of my knowledge he did not submit his retirement paperwork so their is nothing to withdraw. We found out early enough about the March 9, 2012 rule change so that the paperwork was held pending our required clarifications," Kalnins said, adding that the Township Committee was not required to take any formal action to keep Mason in his dual roles of chief and administrator.
"There is no action required for Chief Mason to continue in his current role(s).We would have to officially accept his resignation/retirement which would create the opening for the police chief," Kalnins said.
Last month, a special closed-session Township Committee meeting to interview candidates for the position of police chief was cancelled as officials attempted to decipher the new pension rules and how they would effect Mason's retirement and transition to fulltime administrator.
Mason has worked for the police department for 35 years. He has been embroiled in controversy since the Feb. 28 meeting in which the Township Committee unanimously approved him to take over as full-time administrator. He never officially accepted the position, however. Mason has worked as police chief and as interim township administrator since last September, when former administrator Marlena Schmid was placed on involuntary administrative leave. Schmid is no longer employed by the township. According to Schmid's attorney, Cranford resident Frank Capece, the former township administrator worked for the town for 12 years and left her position "in good standing."
Mason has not returned repeated calls for comment on the issue since the situation first arose. Mayor David Robinson and Township Attorney Phil Morin also did not return calls for comment made last week regarding this issue.