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Police Chief's Retirement On Hold

Police Chief Eric Mason did not retire May 31 as planned. He continues to work as both police chief and interim township administrator.

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 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 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 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.

Chris S. June 04, 2012 at 09:40 PM
http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/pensions/epbam/exhibits/handbook/pfrsbook.pdf Chief Mason and the Township Committee should have known about this long before they announced he had accepted the position to be full time Administrator at the February 28, 2012 meeting. The link I have attached of the PFRS Manual, which details the rules and laws on double dipping, came out in September 2011. This coincidentally coincides when Ms. Marlena Schmidt was put on involuntary leave and Eric Mason was made the Acting Administrator. At the very least, how did Mr. Mason, a 35 year police force veteran, not know what was in his own pension manual, published in September 2011, and while he was in obvious negotiations with the Commissioners for the full time Administrator job leading up to the announcement at the February 28th meeting and the March 13th meeting: http://cjh.cranford.com/uploads/township/minutes/2012/M-03-13-2012om.pdf There also needs to be clarification from these same minutes as to what the exact "personnel matters" were within the police department that the Commissioners went into closed session on as per Resolution # 2012-100.5? So we continue to have an individual who is running the police department and the entire operation of the township government, while also only having a "stand-by" CFO which is a firm who sends 2 to 3 different individuals to the Municipal Building, 2-3 days a week. I ask, is that beneficial to the taxpayers of Cranford?
Chris S. June 05, 2012 at 12:55 AM
I have to partly disagree with you Don. If you read pages 27-29 of the Pension Manual I cited above, you will see that the restrictions that were in place in September 2011 would have prohibited Mr. Mason from taking the job as Township Administrator. Furthermore, if you read page 20, it spells out how an employee should begin planning their retirement 6-8 months prior, and use the MOBS system, etc. So the question remains - in the lead up and discussions to make/give Eric Mason the Administrator position, how did they not know what was in the Pension Manual from September 2011? How can we have confidence in these so-called career professionals to make decisions on large consequential issues when they are unaware of small tid bits of information like their own pensions and benefits?
Chris S. June 05, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Don - for the benefit of all reading this article, and who may also be looking at other forums regarding these issues, lets spell out the time line which the Commissioners have had to work on this: *Feb 28th - Mayor announces Eric Mason will be full time Administrator, new police chief selection process will begin *March 12 - Mayor Robinson again reaffirms Mason as choice despite racist rant video on You Tube. Also around time new law takes effect. *May 3 - First candidates for police Chief are to have their interviews with Commissioners an outside consultant (Chief of So. Brunswick Police). Candidates are notified that afternoon that interviews are postponed indefinitely. So in that time frame of over 3 months - and knowing these rules were in effect, what more 'clarification' do they think they are going to get on this issue from Trenton?
Chris S. June 05, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Also - I realize we may be splitting legal hairs on this - but I also believe the existing rules would preclude Mason from taking the Administrator job. In his role as Administrator he has supervisory authority over the Police Chief and Fire Chief which is spelled out in pages 27-29. Again, I just believe the argument could be made there that it could preclude him. Also interesting - under "IRS Rules", Mason may be subject to a tax penalty for receiving a pension and another public salary if he is less than 59 1/2 years old; as I understand he just turned 55 last week. I will be shocked if our Governor (who is an aspiring Cabinet member of a successful Romney Administration in November), would want to start accumulating precedents like this on his record and that could be used against him in a court of public opinion.
klubkleb June 05, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Why didn't legal whiz Phil Morin--who as township attorney is paid to stay on top of these things and anticipate such problems--actually stay on top of this and warn the committee and Mason about this? Dropped. The. Ball.
Gilbert D. June 05, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Perhaps the Commissioners are awaiting the outcome of the investigation being conducted into Chief Mason and that he has allegedly been having the Township pay for his ex-spouse's healthcare? Just a thought, but it would explain why there is so much secrecy and lack of transparency by the Commissioners of both parties on this very issue.
07016 June 08, 2012 at 10:47 AM
Let him know, I'm STILL waiting for him to address my, still unanswered, letter...shame on you

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