Mason's Transition To Township Administrator Still in Flux
Eric Mason is scheduled to retire as chief of police on May 31. Interviews for a new chief, rumored to have been rescheduled for tomorrow, have been put on hold as officials discuss the pension board's rule changes.
New state pension guidelines may delay Police Chief Eric Mason's transition from police chief to fulltime township administrator following his planned retirement from the Cranford Police Department on May 31.
A special closed-session Township Committee meeting to interview candidates for the position of police chief was cancelled earlier this month. Despite rumors that the interviews were planned for this Saturday, the meeting has yet to be rescheduled and formally announced as required by the Open Public Meetings Act.
"There will not be a special meeting on Saturday for interviews," Deputy Mayor Andis Kalnins said. "I am still waiting on an official decision on the impact of the rule change. The timeline that we had of deciding on a new chief will most likely slip from the May 31 target we had set."
The confusion involves pension guidelines that could prevent Mason from collecting his full police benefits if he jumps directly from the Cranford Police Department into the role of full-time township administrator.
"We're waiting on the interpretation of the new regulations," Township Attorney Philip Morin said. "We don't see it being an issue with the chief transitioning into the township administrator position, but the timing may require the formal transition to be pushed back."
Morin said the Township Committee will likely discuss the issue during it's workshop meeting Monday.
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.
If he takes over the position of township administrator immediately following his May 31 retirement as planned, he will not have the "bona fide severance from employment" that the state pension board requires. It is not yet know if Mason will change his retirement date, or if he will continue to work as an interim township administrator until the required 180-day time period is reached.
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.
Mason, who announced that he would step down as police chief on May 31 after 35 years with the CPD, has been embroiled in controversy since the Feb. 28 meeting in which township council unanimously approved him to take over as full-time administrator. 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 left her position "in good standing."
"There was a separation agreement. She left in good standing. There are no pending actions," Capece said, adding that the separation agreement "was amicable."
Capece stressed that Schmid "has nothing whatsoever to do with the current Mason situation." She is currently pursuing other job opportunities, the attorney said.
Schmid worked in Cranford as the township administrator for 12 years. She was appointed to the position on Oct. 12, 1999. Schmid was certified by the Department of Community Affairs as a purchasing agent — she was one of the first licensed purchasing agents in the state. She was also a certified chief financial officer. Schmid earned a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree in public administration from George Washington University.
Although he does not have a degree in any field related to finance or administration, Mason has received praise after he took over the duties of township administrator as residents struggled to begin rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Flooding from the storm resulted in the evacuation of town hall and several municipal departments, some of which remain housed in trailers behind the municipal building. As the acting administrator, Mason has worked with FEMA as well as state and county governments to help secure more than $4 million in funding for the flood-ravaged township.
Mason did not return initial calls seeking comment on the issue. When Patch contacted his office again on Friday afternoon, is assistant said he'd be out of the office until Monday.