Chief's Transition To Full-Time Township Admin. Closer To Becoming Reality

The Township Committee will interview candidates tonight and tomorrow to take over Interim Township Administrator/Police Chief Eric Mason's position.

The Township Comittee will spend the next two evenings interviewing candidates for the position of police chief, paving the way for current Chief Eric Mason to take over the duties of township administrator on a full-time basis.

Mason has worked as 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."

"We are resuming the search for a police chief," Deputy Mayor Andis Kalnins confirmed late Tuesday after public meting notices were sent out by the township clerk's office announcing plans for the closed session meetings, which will be held in town hall tonight and Thursday night.

Despite his initial plans to retire from the Police Department on May 31, Eric Mason has continued to work as the Cranford police chief, while simultaneously serving as the interim township administrator. Mason's had been put on hold due to confusion involving pension guidelines. Officials were unsure if the regulations could have prevented 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.

"At this point we have received enough confirmation from the State Treasurer's office that the pension rule clarification will be out shortly and does not have a issue that will prevent Eric Mason from taking the administrator's position," Kalnins said.

Both Mason and Township Attorney Phil Morin were on vacation and could not be reached for additional comment on the issue. Mason has not returned repeated calls made by Patch for comment on the issue since the situation first arose, although he has been interviewed by other news publications.

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.

Mason, as of June, had not yet filed his official retirement paperwok with the state. The chief has worked for the police department for 35 years. He has been embroiled in controversy since the in which the Township Committee unanimously approved him to take over as full-time administrator. He never officially accepted the position, however.

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