The Township Committee has started its search for a township administrator to replace Police Chief Eric Mason, who has served as an interim administrator since September of 2011.
Mason informed the governing body that as of Dec. 31, he will step down from his position as the interim administrator — a position he has held for more than a year — and focus solely on his role as the township's police chief.
"At our last meeting, Commissioner (Lisa) Adubato mentioned that as of Dec. 31, he would resume working (solely) in the police department," Mayor David Robinson said, adding that Mason will continue to work with the Township Committee and his replacement administrator as a new employee transitions into the role. Adubato serves as the Township Committee's police commissioner.
The governing body agreed to instruct Township Clerk Tara Rowley to advertise for two positions: one for someone to take on the township administrator job on an interim basis, and another to seek applications for a permanent administrator.
"The thought behind that was that some people may be interim administrators, but not full time administrators. It's kind of a different skill set," Robinson said, explaining that there are often applicants who would be willing and able do the job only on a temporary basis.
Hiring employees to fill positions on an interim basis is not uncommon. The process will allow the governing body to hire someone to perform the duties of administrator as quickly as possible, while searching for a permanent replacement for Mason when he steps down from his administrative role on Dec. 31.
"Our desire is to have a plan of action set as soon as possible," Robinson added.
The mayor did not explain Mason's reason behind his decision to leave his position as township administrator. A request filed by Cranford Patch through the Open Public Records Act requesting a copy of Mason's resignation letter was denied. The denial, according to the township clerk's response, was "based upon the New Jersey Appellate Court's decision Kieffer v. High Point Regional High School, 2010 WL, in which the Appellate Division upheld the denial of access to a public employee's letter or resignation under OPRA as the letter contained personnel information beyond what was required to be released by statute."
Originally, Mason, a 35-year veteran of the Cranford Police Department, had hoped to retire from his post as police chief on May 31 and seek employment as the township administrator on a permanent basis. Subsequently, the Township Committee conducted interviews of law enforcement personnel in order to hire a new chief to lead the police department when he retired.
For months, Mason's transition from police chief to fulltime township administrator had to be put on hold due to confusion involving state pension guidelines that could have prevented the chief from collecting his full police benefits if he jumped directly from the Cranford Police Department into the role of full-time township administrator.
For more than a year, Mason worked simultaneously as both the full time police chief and the interim administrator — a job which often required full time hours, especially in the wake of hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Mason collected his police chief salary, as well as a stipend for working as the administrator, although Robisnon said he could not recall the exact amount of the stipend. Patch has filed an OPRA request for this information and we will update this story based on the response. Robinson said the township saved money by having Mason serve in both roles. sets the salary for the chief of police in the $112,497 – $142,000 range, while a permanent township administrator could earn between $106,390 and $148,948.
Mason was hired as the township's interim administrator when former administrator Marlena Schmid was placed on involuntary administrative leave after 12 years working for Cranford. Schmid is no longer employed by the township. Although he does not have a degree in any field related to finance or administration, Mason received praise after he took over the duties of township administrator as residents struggled to begin rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Irene. He has also been responsible for overseeing the reconstruction of the flood-damaged lower level of town hall.
This is not the first time a police chief has stepped into the role of township administrator. In 1999, former Police Chief Harry Wilde served in the position following the resignation of John Laezza. Wilde served as the administrator until Schmid was hired.
Mason has been embroiled in controversy since the meeting on Feb. 28, during which the township committee unanimously approved him to take over as full-time administrator. Mason joined the Cranford police force in 1977. He was named chief in July of 2003. In 2010, he was named president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.