GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Local elected officials are demanding an independent audit and are asking questions following the revelation that Galloway Township paid two retired police captains more than $29,000 apiece without telling the governing body or getting a vote on the payments as state law requires.
A pair of separation agreements paid former Galloway Police captains Joseph Davies and William Hambrecht not to sue the township after they were passed over for a promotion and not to publicly comment on their employment, according to the documents.
Hambrecht retired in June, and Davies retired in April 2009. Each has declined comment.
Former Township Manager Jill Gougher, now chief financial officer for the municipality, and former Human Resources Director George Wackenheim, who lost his job to budget cuts this spring, negotiated the agreements. City Council members had not known of the payments until The Press of Atlantic City requested information related to the two retirements and published the information Sunday.
Councilman Jim Gorman released a statement Tuesday asking for an independent audit to check whether other money has been spent without the governing body’s knowledge.
“As someone elected by the people to keep a watch on taxpayer funds, I am disgusted to learn that expenditures were made without notifying or even getting City Council’s approval,” he said in the statement.
Gorman, the sole Democrat on the governing body, is running for Atlantic County freeholder.
Councilman Dennis Kleiner said he wants to know why Gougher brokered the agreements, which may not be valid without the Council vote. Council members have said they are unsure how they will proceed.
“I’m not ready to vote on anything retroactively until I find out why they were done in the first place,” Kleiner said.
Just before Davies signed his agreement and left two years shy of qualifying for his pension, Gougher had recommended the hire of Pat Moran, then a lieutenant, to succeed former Police Chief Peter Romanelli.
Gougher has said she intended the agreements to allow Moran to make personnel changes free of criticism.
Moran said he knew Gougher and Wackenheim met with the captains to discuss their retirements, as is customary, but was told at the time that any related documents were confidential. He had no reason to think the matter was being handled in anything other than a routine fashion, he said.
“There is no indication that the extra $30,000 was an added incentive for either to retire,” Moran said.
Their retirement did save money, however, and prevented furloughs and layoffs other than the two patrolmen who have lost their jobs due to funding shortages, Moran said.
“Both captains were very good employees with credible years of service and I did not have a problem working with either of them. I’m sure that both captains left feeling as though by retiring they saved jobs and I commend them for that,” Moran said.
Both Davies and Hambrecht were named previously by officials as other candidates for the position.
Although both men were eligible for the job, only Davies actually applied, Moran said Tuesday in an e-mail.
Gougher declined to answer to other questions Tuesday unless current Township Manager Roger Tees directed her to do so.
Tees did not respond to calls or e-mails.
Township Council meets next at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, in the municipal complex, 300 E. Jimmie Leeds Road.
An issue remains if the legality of the payments cannot be resolved retroactively: The agreements require Davies and Hambrecht to pay back the money if they are deemed void or unenforceable.
Councilman Tom Bassford defended Gougher’s actions and called council votes on managerial decisions a “formality.”
“She did nothing wrong,” said Bassford, who was mayor when Gougher made the deal with Davies. “In our form of government, anything having to do with employees does not have to come to council. … She can overrule us, to my knowledge. We don’t have to approve it.”
In New Jersey, managers of municipalities organized in the council/manager form of government can negotiate contracts “subject to council approval,” according to state law.
Solicitor Michael Blee said the manager cannot, to his knowledge, override council.
Local governing bodies must vote publicly to spend public funds. Exceptions include routine expenditures of relatively small amounts, which ultimately get approved once they appear on a bill list, according to Bill Kearns, general counsel for the state League of Municipalities.
Current and former council members also have said they did not know about the separation agreements; Gougher says everyone knew the first and some — whom she declined to name — knew about the second.
Bassford initially said they were news to him as well. But the former mayor now says while he never actually saw the documents, he knew about them.
“I never saw the agreement, but I knew what she was doing, I knew what her thinking was. I told her to do what she had to do, that’s her job, that’s what we pay her for,” Bassford said.
Gougher formerly held both CFO and manager’s posts. To relieve Gougher’s workload and establish firmer checks and balances between those positions, officials decided to hire a new manager, one they wanted to bring more economic development experience to the township’s administration.
Tees ran Pleasantville’s Urban Enterprise Zone until he started in Galloway in June.
Gougher has said she did not bring the matter for a public vote because former labor attorney Karen Williams did not advise her to do so. Now a federal judge, Williams has said she cannot comment on the matter.
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