BRIGANTINE — Residents, city police officers, firefighters and members of the beach patrol crowded City Council chambers Saturday morning for an introduction to the new public safety director, Daniel Howard.
Howard’s appointment this past week has been contentious. Members of the beach patrol, police and fire departments have objected to it.
Mayor Phil Guenther told the crowd he had concerns with City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal’s process.
“We’ve had a lot of confusion in the city’s public safety, and that is not a reflection of the departments but of the process that has been less than transparent,” Guenther said.
Blumenthal said she had to make a decision quickly for what was best for the city’s public safety departments after this month’s events of the demotion of former acting police Chief Ray Cox and the death of acting Fire Chief Jim Holl.
Blumenthal said all the public safety departments have managerial problems, and she made a decision that Guenther simply doesn’t like.
“Dan has a wealth of knowledge, and there are captains that could move up in management, but captains are not management thinkers at this time,” Blumenthal said of the upper echelon of the city’s public safety departments.
Blumenthal said the police department has issues with overtime costs and spending. She said budgetary line items are almost at their limits.
“Dan is not here to take anyone’s job. I did what I thought was best for the city,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa McClay said discussion of consolidating the public safety departments was not a surprise, and neither was Blumenthal’s appointment of Howard.
Councilman Frank Kern said the city had to make a decision to quell the concerns of the public, and Blumenthal did the right thing.
“We need to make sure the feeling of public safety exists,” Kern said.
Guenther said the position should have been advertised. Blumenthal replied it was not necessary, because the position is temporary.
Guenther said the Blumenthal’s appoint process was disrespectful to the council. “And I don’t think we need another $70,000 administration position in this city when there are other things we could spend that money on,” he said.
Howard, 52, is a retired Mount Laurel, Burlington County, police lieutenant. He will earn an annual salary of $70,000 as a noncontracted employee, Blumenthal said. Howard of Riverton, Burlington County, said he receives a police retirement pension of about $90,000.
Blumenthal said the money to pay Howard’s salary, which was not included in this year’s budget, will come from the budgeted salary for Holl, who died unexpectedly June 2 at age 51.
Howard will assume administrative duties, including scheduling and budgeting, but not day-to-day operations the city’s police, fire, EMS and beach patrol.
Howard said he understands the concerns of the department’s employees. He worked under a public safety director at the start of his own police career in Mount Laurel.
“I am not immune to the irony of my conversation with these departments. I’ve told them I’d feel exactly how they feel if I was in their position,” he said.
Howard worked with the department earlier this year during its accreditation process. It was then that he learned the city could appoint a public safety director, he said.
Howard and Blumenthal worked together in Mount Laurel. Last year, he contacted her and asked if he could use her for a professional reference, he said. Blumenthal said she is “not friends” with Howard but knew him from her work as Mount Laurel’s township manager.
“Jennifer obviously knew I was looking for opportunities last year,” Howard said.
City police officers wore blue T-shirts that read “Support Your Local Police.” They listened as city officials and residents spoke about their concerns during the meeting, which last more than three hours.
“I’m confused, upset and aggravated,” resident John C. Feret said. “I love this town and I don’t want to see it go to shambles. We need police, fire and beach patrol chiefs. Look what’s happening over in Atlantic City with robberies and killings.”
Councilman Rick Delucry said Howard is a long-term member of law enforcement, not an outsider.
“Any organization that brings in outsiders to do work it’s because the department is so corrupt and that’s the only way to clean it up. That is not the case in Brigantine,” resident James Mackey said.
“What was said this morning about their lack of management was a disservice to these departments. We don’t need cronyism,” Mackey said.
Anne H. Phillips, speaking on behalf of the Brigantine Taxpayer’s Association, said Howard’s appointment was timely. She urged the crowd to remember Howard was appointed to an interim position.
“The police officers here are wearing blue T-shirts that say support your local police. We do support the police, but that does not mean you cannot from time to time have disagreements with public decisions,” Phillips said.
Contact Donna Weaver:
Follow on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver