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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,  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 . Flooding from the storm resulted in the evacuation of town hall and several municipal departments, some of which remain housed in trailers behind the . 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.

Chris S. May 18, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Interesting Toni Ann, once again Chief Mason is unavailable for comment. He managed to find the time and resources to call Ryan Hutchins from the Star Ledger while he was in the Dominican Republic on vacation when the You Tube video was released. Hopefully nothing tragic happens in Cranford this weekend that would prevent a press release coming out prior to Mr. Mason's return to work on Monday morning. NO degrees in administration or finance, and Ms. Schmid (and her issues aside for a moment) had degrees from two prestigious universities in major fields of study related to her job. What knowledge of finance does Mr. Mason bring to the table that warrant another salary of $140,000 + a year? We have an acconting firm working on stand-by because we can't find a full time CFO (allegedly); who is minding the store? Is the governing body of Cranford telling the taxpayers that with 16% REAL unemployment in this country, they could not find someone more qualified than Mr. Mason? The Mayor managed to raise money and source a turf field from scratch, yet was not wiling to put the same effort into finding someone as qualified, if not more, than Ms. Schmid to lead Cranford which not only has problems post-Irene, but also had fiscal issues prior to, thus the Rice Notice hearings in 2009. Thank you Toni Ann for being the one member of the media who seems to be giving coverage to these issues.
Mike S. May 19, 2012 at 12:46 AM
First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to this young woman. As a Father of a teenage daughter, I can't imagine if it were my daughter going through this. I also want to thank the CPD patrol units who found these thugs and the three detectives that handled this case. I know detectives don't usually get acknowledged for their efforts, so good job to Detectives Greco and Swandrack and Sgt. Polito. One of your patrol officers spoke very highly of the work you did. That tells me a lot because I know where I work the patrol guys and detectives don't always see eye to eye. As for some of the concerns I have read about it. I don't have a problem with not all the facts of the case being discussed publicly. In a small town like ours, just giving the location could give a clue to who the victim is. This would be horrible for the victim to have to relive that nightmare. Also, I encourage people to do some checking on your own. Check out facebook. If you don't know about facebook, ask your kids. Their names were released, Nahjee Faine and Marcus Mouzon. Check out their facebook pages. Mr. Faine has a nice quote on his "wall", and some lovely pictures of himself. A friend of mine is a corrections officer and he knew about this case. He told me how hard it is for an Assistant Prosecutor to give charge approval for the highest degree of crime there is (First Degree). Obviously there was more than a he said, she said here. Great job officers, and thank you.
Monk May 19, 2012 at 02:05 PM
"Schmid was placed on involuntary administrative leave." Why?
Toniann Antonelli (Editor) May 21, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Tom, I've asked several times, but I have not been told the exact reason for this. I believe both sides signed a legal agreement that prohibits them from discussing it.
Elaine Demyen May 21, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Legal agreements that keep the public in the dark ! Certainly leaves something to be desired. Some day, the "good old boy" network in town has to stop!
Linda May 21, 2012 at 12:28 PM
The crap in this town keeps getting worse and worse! Time to get out!
Monk May 21, 2012 at 12:54 PM
I figured as much, but "involuntary administrative leave" sure begs the question! Thanks.
Chris S. June 04, 2012 at 02:26 PM
So here we are, June4th, and no clarification whatsoever from the Mayor, Commissioners, or Eric Mason himself, as to his employment position. A resolution was announced on the record that Mason would take over on June 1, and there has been no counter resolution stating that he is not taking the position, or a change in the date. Is Eric Mason still legally employed as the Police Chief per township charter, and state law? This whole situation reminds me of the debacle with President Obama's inauguration and how they had to read minister his oath later that night with Chief Justice Roberts.
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