ATLANTIC CITY — Police Chief John J. Mooney III submitted his letter of resignation Thursday, less than an hour after a judge sank his last chance to delay his demotion.
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Superior Court Judge William Todd issued a two-week stay of the city’s plan to lay off 20 police officers and demote several other police officials, but stopped short of including Mooney, whose individual attempt to delay his demotion to deputy chief failed earlier this week.
The judge delayed the police layoffs and 14 demotions over concerns that a list of city employees provided to the state was inaccurate. He said the two sides can continue to discuss the details until June 11, when the layoff plan can go into effect with no further discussion.
Meanwhile, Mooney vacated his seat as of 12 a.m. today, according to his one-page letter to Public Safety Director Christine Petersen, ending a 34-year career in the city’s Police Department.
“The law-enforcement code of ethics will not permit me to participate in the illegal infusion of political control into this police agency,” Mooney wrote Thursday. “I further understand that my continued presence in the department is the factor depriving other officers of significant potential benefits.”
Mooney has argued his demotion is part of an organized “scheme” to hurt him personally and allow Mayor Lorenzo Langford, a long-time adversary of the chief, to obtain complete control of city law enforcement.
The mayor and the chief have been embroiled in a war since Langford retook the Mayor’s Office in November 2008, including public disagreements over the chief’s authority and the mayor’s decision to suspend the use of police patrol dogs.
Earlier this year, City Council approved Langford’s plan to re-create the position of public safety director, one of his campaign promises.
By March, the city appointed Petersen, a Jersey City native. Mooney then forbade his officers from speaking to the new director, engaged the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office on several occasions over disagreements between him and the director and filed a lawsuit against the city claiming damages from political retaliation and reverse racism.
Asked Thursday night whether his decision was based on financial considerations or on pride, he acknowledged he would receive more money by retiring as a chief.
“It’s absolutely a travesty that the city is being run in this manner,” he said.
Petersen later told The Press of Atlantic City that she visited the chief to discuss his resignation and make sure it was what he wanted to do.
“I tried to discuss it with him, but he didn’t want to,” she said, adding that his departure could alter the planned demotions. But Deputy Police Chief Ernest Jubilee II will likely still take over the department’s daily operations for Mooney.
Mooney said he hoped his resignation Thursday would prompt the mayor to reconsider the entire layoff and demotion plan.
The mayor did not return calls seeking comment.
The city moved forward with the layoffs of other employees outside of the Police Department on Thursday. Fifteen other layoffs were previously approved by the state, which included city supervisors and other white-collar employees.
Robert O’Brien, the attorney representing two police unions in court Thursday, marked the judge’s decision as a victory, saying he is optimistic that the number of police layoffs and demotions could be diminished in the two-week period.
The list of employees the state’s Civil Service Commission used to determine who would be laid off showed several people who no longer work for the city, including Mary C. Speas, a former principal clerk typist who died in 2001.
“I’m not asking the court to reinvent the wheel,” O’Brien argued to the judge Thursday. “We’re asking for a fair amount of time” to compile a correct list.
But O’Brien said after the hearing that he hopes the extra time will allow more employees to retire and possibly limit the need for layoffs and demotions.
The unions are expecting at least 99 city employees to resign under new changes to the resort’s retirement program that increase the city’s payout of benefits by 20 percent. But state officials are reviewing the changes out of concern that the city, in essence, enacted a retirement-incentive plan, which is illegal by state statute.
Steven Glickman, the city’s chief labor attorney, said the judge’s decision will have little impact on the city’s projected savings.
“Every dollar counts, but this is not that substantial,” he said.
The judge also made it clear that regardless of what the employee list looks like June 11, the layoff plan can be enacted.
“If they happen to be the same way they are today, so be it,” the judge said during his decision.
Mooney said he met with the police officers targeted for layoffs and demotions Thursday to show his appreciation for their service.
“At least I had the courtesy to look each one of them in the eye,” he said. “These are not only police officers, but some of them are people that served our country in war zones.”
Political battles are nothing new for Mooney or his family, which has been a staple in Atlantic City politics for decades.
His father, John Mooney Jr., was an officer-turned-ward-politician who saw the way government worked when the late state Sen. Frank S. Farley and the Republican machine ruled the town. The late councilman commonly did battle with the late James L. Usry, the city’s first black mayor, who served as an inspiration to Langford.
Around the time of his father’s retirement, Mooney graduated from St. Augustine Prep School and was headed to Villanova University. After his junior year, however, Mooney decided to come home and pursue a position with the Police Department. He was hired as a patrolman in November 1975.
Like his father, Mooney was elected president of the local PBA. His election came in 1982, just seven years into his public safety career. The same year, the 6th Ward elected Mooney Jr. its councilman. Two years later, with his father vice president of council, Mooney obtained a political appointment as aide to Chief Joseph Pasquale, a position his father held under Chief Mario Floriani.
By the end of 1993, Mooney had become a captain, a rank he maintained when he served as acting chief in place of Arthur Snellbaker in late 2005. Mooney was later sworn in as deputy chief, but as part of a settlement in which Mooney was passed over for promotion during Langford’s first term, the rank was made retroactive to Jan. 1, 2005.
On April 10, 2006, the city officially made Mooney chief, a promotion he called “an honor for me personally and an honor for our family.”
Although he resigned his position Thursday, Mooney said he intends to continue his litigation against the city in an effort to eventually “regain my rightful position.”
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