Editor's Note: The following two formal statements by police union officials were read during the public participation segment of the . They were submitted to Lawrenceville Patch as Letters to the Editor and are presented in their entirety.
During the council meeting, Township Manager Richard Krawczun and members of township council responded to some of the comments made by the police union officials in the these letters. Some of those responses can be and can also be heard in their entirety via the meeting audio available from the media box at the right.
While Mejia and Lee are among the seven Lawrence Township police officers who last month filed a against the township and township officials, both said last night that they were speaking not as individuals but in their capacities as union leaders.
The following was submitted by Police Officer Andres Mejia on behalf of Lawrence Township Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 119.
Good Evening Council, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Manager:
I am Andres Mejia, lifelong township resident and the treasurer of Lawrence Township PBA Local 119. I am here tonight because of the proposed layoffs of three Lawrence Township Police Officers: Ryan Dunn, Iwona Smith, and Christopher Stylianou.
Ryan Dunn is a lifelong Lawrence resident and spent almost five years as a dispatcher with the Lawrence Township Police Department before realizing his lifelong dream of becoming a police officer in his home town. He is currently attending the Mercer County Police Academy and is at the top of his recruit class. His salary as a recruit in the police academy is $35,000 and he took a significant pay cut to realize his dream of becoming a Lawrence Township Police Officer.
Iwona Smith is a resident of Lambertville, is of Polish descent, and has been employed as a police officer with the Lawrence Township Police Department for less than one year. She has faced layoffs before, while employed as a police officer in the city of Trenton. Officer Smith speaks Polish fluently, as well as conversational Russian. She is the only police officer in Mercer County who speaks Polish and transferred to the Lawrence Township Police Department because of the large Polish and Russian populations that live in Lawrence and her ability to provide invaluable community relations to this diverse segment of the population that resides in Lawrence. Since coming to the Lawrence Township Police Department, Officer Smith has been a tremendous asset to the department and has made many positive relationships with the Polish and Russian communities in town and is looked upon as a role model for by many Polish and Russian residents of the township. Her salary is $52,891. Officer Smith is married and has a daughter.
Christopher Stylianou is a lifelong resident of Lawrence Township. He has been employed as a police officer in Lawrence Township for two and a half years. Officer Stylianou was previously employed with the New York City Police Department for two and a half years and left the NYPD because he wanted to be a police officer in his hometown of Lawrence. His salary is $71,991. Officer Stylianou is married and he and his wife are currently expecting their first child.
I want you, the council, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Manager to remember these officers’ names and their stories. It is the least you can do as you are threatening to take away their livelihoods.
These officers make a combined salary of $159,882. The Chief of Police makes $165,000. These three officers currently cost the Township of Lawrence including benefits, pension contributions, and salary a total of $247,896. The Chief of Police including salary, pension, and benefits cost the Township of Lawrence just shy of $233,000. The Chief of Police has 29 years of service and is eligible to retire at anytime. If the Chief of Police were to retire immediately, the township could easily save the jobs of these three young officers.
It is well known at this time that there are several deep-rooted problems within the Lawrence Township Police Department. The Chief of Police is responsible for the morale and day to day operations of the police department. Morale is at an all time low. This is a fact and is not fiction. We need change at the top of the department in the worst way. The Chief of Police, when given the opportunity to fight for his men and their jobs this past Tuesday, sat there in the crowd and did nothing to fight for them. The Chief of Police, instead of retiring and saving the jobs of these three officers is refusing to do so out of selfishness and greed. If the Chief were to retire today, he would be entitled to an annual pension of almost $113,000! Yet he refuses to do so and save the jobs of these officers.
This is the perfect opportunity to retire, save face, and do the right thing and yet he still refuses to do so. You the Council, Mr. Mayor, and Mr. Manager can do the right thing and ask the Chief of Police to step down and do the right thing. I urge you to do so, as do the members of the Lawrence Township Police Department. Upon the retirement of the Chief, you the Council can perhaps hire a police director at significant savings over appointing a new chief and begin to fix the problems within our police department. A director will not cost you anything in the form of pension contributions and, potentially, benefits as well. In addition a police director would make significantly less than the current Chief of Police does while also allowing for much needed reforms to occur with a fresh perspective from the outside.
In addition to the potential retirement of the Chief of Police, there is also further potential for savings in salary within the department. What is the status of the officer who is currently suspended with pay pending termination for medical reasons? This officer has been out of work for almost a year. This officer should and can be bought out and forced to retire. This would save the township in excess of $156,000 and further allow us to save jobs.
In reading the proposed budget I noticed there is $914,039.20 in Operations Reserves. What is this money earmarked for? This amount is almost as much money as is being saved by the proposed layoffs. Can this be explained to all of us?
In the budget, the township anticipates $539,000 in revenue from the red light cameras at Franklin Corner Rd and Route 1. How much revenue have the cameras brought into the township coffers year to date? It is my understanding that year to date the cameras have brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars and we are only in the middle of May. Is it possible that there is additional revenue not being reported that could save jobs?
In conclusion, I again urge you the council, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Manager to reconsider the proposed layoffs of three of my colleagues. I firmly believe in and have presented to you several alternatives that could easily save these three jobs and not compromise public safety in the Township of Lawrence. If you still wish to layoff Officers Ryan Dunn, Iwona Smith, and Christopher Stylianou, I want you to remember their names. It is the least you can do for them, the police department, and the residents of Lawrence Township. Lay these officers off and you will never see them again as they will be hired by surrounding municipalities.
Thank you for your time.
The following was submitted by Police Officer Andrew Lee on behalf of Lawrence Township Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 209.
Good Evening, Ladies and Gentleman, Mayor and Members of Council. My name is Andrew Lee and I am the President of the Lawrence Township FOP Lodge 209.
Members of Council: Things are bad...very bad. People of all walks of life are laid off. Fuel prices have been at ridiculous levels for about eight years. Consumer costs are on the rise. People don't have the disposable income that they once had. They are mad. They are pointing fingers. Right here, most of the finger pointing is at you. I don't envy any of you. You are all inundated with tough decisions.
You have to live next to these people that are pointing at you. You shop with them, you socialize with them, you go for religious services with them, and most of you probably want their votes to reelect you when your time comes.
As Ms. Lewis said on Tuesday night, you suggested a tax to balance the budget. The people said "No!" You suggested a fee to balance the budget. The people said "No!"
Finally your last ditch effort to balance the budget was to tell people that services would be cut and employees would have to be laid off. Once again, the people said "No!" If Ms. Lewis doesn't object, for the sake of tonight, I'd like to coin this the "Lewis Principle." As Ms. Lewis said, sooner or later, you will have to say "Sorry but this is how it's going to be.” Ms. Lewis, in my 34 years, I have never heard that kind of honest, in-your-face candor from an elected official.
I salute you for your honesty! Mr. Krawczun, I also appreciate you honesty when you said last meeting that police officers and for that matter anyone else would never be able to reach the "American Dream" on 2 percent raises. You also made it clear that the town could not prosper or even continue to provide the same level of services on a 2 percent per year increase.
I wholeheartedly agree and also commend you for your honesty.
This town passed a resolution to support the governor's "Tool Kit." Mr. Krawczun can verify that I said it before, said it recently, and am saying it again that the financial requirements and bounds contained in this Tool Kit are financially impossible to deliver in today's economy and are fiscally irresponsible.
It's time to go back to the League of Municipalities, the governor and our legislators and tell them that this plan was beautiful on paper and in theory, but will be impossible to achieve in practice.
Enough is enough. Return the power to govern the municipalities to the municipalities. It's not the state's right to choose how the people of a town want to run the town's finances. It's the town's and its people's rights and jobs to do this.
In recent decades, many rural towns have seen high levels of residential development, particularly high density development in the forms of condos, town homes and small parcel single family homes. This has transformed these rural towns into a more suburban environment, resulting in a higher cost for providing education and other services to their residents. In response, these towns have sought to bringing commercial ratables to offset these costs.
Some have even given companies financial incentives to entice them into their towns.
Historically, they have beaten down your doors to come here. Your appointed planning and zoning boards have turned them away. I understand that sometimes this is as the wish of the citizens. Enter once again, the Lewis Principle. This case can be related to the sentiment that says everyone wants cheap electricity but no one wants the nuclear plant in their back yard. Sorry folks as Ms. Lewis said, sooner or later you have to say "Yes."
Our town chased away a major hospital which, in itself, wouldn't have been a ratable but if they followed suit with Capital Health Hopewell, they would have been extremely generous to our town and brought a demand for other medical office space ratables in town.
The town is in the process of rejecting the approval for a daycare center that would go into an old church building that has never before brought income to the township.
On the comer of Route 1 and Whitehead Road, a heavy commercial zone, WaWa wanted to open a store.
Again, this would have been a much higher ratable than the semi-developed eyesore that is there now. On the outskirts of town are two empty car lots that are becoming dilapidated as we speak and have been squatting grounds for homeless people.
Wal-Mart begged this township to let them build a store there. This would have been a huge source of revenue for the town.
Again, the town turned them away partially because of the Lewis Principle. These are just a few of examples of revenue that other towns would kill for but our town has rejected. It's time for this town to become business friendly.
Mayor and Council, this is not the time for friendships and personal loyalties. Unfortunately tough times call for tough decisions. A cost savings measure at this point would be for the Chief of Police to retire. This could provide savings for the officers facing layoffs to continue to provide for their young families.
As I stated previously those eligible to retire would secure a full pension and lose nothing. I think it's time that Council recognizes this cost saving option rather than to lose three trained and efficient police officers.
In these tough times and due to the budgetary crisis the township is facing it would be a more fiscally responsible decision for the town to have a Public Safety Director. With the retirement of the Chief of Police, a Public Safety Director would provide cost savings which inevitably cover majority of the cost of the three officers being laid off.
Another cost savings measure would be for the Deputy Chief to retire June 1 rather than September 1, as has been rumored. This would save the township a half-a-year's salary rather than the last quarter of his salary. This savings alone would provide a majority of the money necessary to save an officer being laid off.
My final point tonight is that this town has always prided itself on being a community. We even have a special "Community Day" festival every fall to celebrate our "community." Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to act like a community.