Former Atlantic City police Chief John Mooney testified Wednesday that he believes a move to demote police officers — some with salaries higher than the mayor’s — targeted him alone.
William Lundsten, a defense attorney representing the city in Mooney’s civil trial against it, questioned Mooney on key issues the former chief said led up to retaliation against him in 2010, when city government proposed to demote about 20 police officers as part of budget cuts.
Mooney is suing the city for at least $435,000 in financial compensation and to be reinstated as chief after he left the department in 2010 rather than take the demotion to deputy chief, a move that would have reduced his pay and pension.
Lundsten established in court Wednesday that the chief and two deputy chiefs were making more than the mayor, who was making about $105,000 per year. He said rookie officers made about $60,000 per year.
The city’s budget-cutting plan included demotions of some of the highest-paid officials so that fewer positions would have to be eliminated, Lundsten said.
Mooney, the highest-paid city employee at the time with an annual salary of $214,000, knew the city was looking at ways to cut costs and made suggestions of his own. These included cutting or reducing several units in the department, such as traffic-control officers, school crossing guards and parking meter enforcers, according to a letter from Mooney in March 2010.
Eliminating six crossing guard positions would save the city about $94,000, Mooney said in the letter.
“We are talking about people who make $11,000 per year? And you have no problem getting rid of them, just don’t touch my cops, correct?” Lundsten asked Mooney.
Lundsten said Mooney’s suggestions involved reductions in force of all departments except his own. Nowhere in the letter, nor at any point during the budget discussions that year, he said, did Mooney suggest a cut to his salary, the attorney said. Mooney agreed.
In the 2010 letter, Lundsten pointed out, Mooney also suggested eliminating the newly created public safety director position, which he had already unsuccessfully tried to fight in court. The public safety director made about $90,000 per year.
The six “whistleblower” acts Mooney described at the start of his cross-examination Wednesday included the restriction of the police overtime budget, discovering the city hired a felon, the city interfering in police investigations and the overstepping of municipal government authority in handling internal affairs documents.
Mooney said the administration was overstepping its authority and that city government should not have been privy to documents dealing with K-9 patrols, investigations into misconduct at a firehouse and investigations into two officers.
But Lundsten challenged whether Mooney’s examples qualified as whistleblowing.
“Every time you complain your authority has been infringed, it is not blowing a whistle, it is just you complaining,” the defense attorney said. “Requesting files is not a violation (of authority). What else is a violation that you blew the whistle on?”
But Mooney reaffirmed he believed he was retaliated against by Mayor Lorenzo Langford and former Public Safety Director Christine Petersen.
Petersen has since retired, and the position of chief of police has been reinstated. Most, if not all, of the demoted officers were promoted back to their original positions.
Former Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel, who communicated with Mooney throughout the budget talks in 2010, will take the stand today, along with Petersen.
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