LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Residents criticized the Township Committee during its meeting Thursday evening concerning the 21/2-year administrative leave of police Lt. Don Johnson.
Township officials, police and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office have refused to comment on Johnson’s leave, saying it is a personnel issue. Officials will also not comment on how long they expect the leave to continue.
Members of the public pressed the committee for answers Thursday, to no avail.
Before the start of the public comment period during the regular Township Committee meeting, attorney Robin La Bue instructed the audience and the committee that they could not discuss a news article in Monday’s edition of the Press of Atlantic City about Johnson’s situation or anything about his employment.
Resident Carrie Starr-Grady said Johnson’s leave has gone on long enough and she called on the committee to push state legislators to draft a law that would set a time frame for how long an officer can be out in this type of situation.
“This is a disgrace,” Starr-Grady said. “They need to put a window on these investigations so we as taxpayers don’t have to watch this take place,”
Johnson has been receiving his full salary since going on administrative leave two and half years ago. This year, Johnson is being paid $137,453. When he was put on leave he was receiving $128,877. Under a new collective bargaining agreement he would be paid $140,202 in 2013 and $143,005 in 2014.
Resident Roman Krochmal also pressed the committee for answers about Johnson’s leave.
“It’s unfortunate we had to wait for this to come out in the newspaper. Why wasn’t there a footnote about this spending hundreds of thousands on his salary in the budget? This is ludicrous,” Krochmal said.
La Bue and Mayor John Kehm told Krochmal they could not comment, saying it is a personnel issue and not included in the budget.
There are a lot of things the public can know about public employees and there are other things where there are privacy issues and the public has to respect that, La Bue said.
“This guy’s reputation is going to be shot. He’s going to come back to duty and everyone is going to wonder what ... went on. It’s a disgrace,” Krochmal said.
Joel Mahr, president of the local Police Benevolent Association said he had not planned to speak Thursday evening, but he was moved to after hearing the words from the audience about the issue.
“Lt. Johnson is not here to defend himself. One of the gentlemen was correct to say that Lt. Johnson’s reputation could be tainted, and that is why I had to say something,” Mahr said.
Mahr read from a letter to the editor he has submitted to the Press of Atlantic City in which he calls Johnson a competent and fair supervisor. He wrote that the PBA has not been provided with any information as to why Johnson remains on leave. The PBA supports Johnson, he said.
“Our wish is for Lt. Johnson to return to work,” Mahr said.
The PBA has also made an issue of Johnson’s leave because four police officers remain laid off since 2010 and the department is shorthanded.
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