LITTLE EGG HARBOR — A township police lieutenant placed on administrative leave nearly three years ago continues to collect his six-figure annual salary despite complaints from his own union leaders.
Police union leaders say they've pressed the township for answers on why Lt. Don Johnson, a 24-year veteran, is still collecting his annual salary and benefits. Johnson, who went on leave in 2010, is also receiving raises to his annual salary, which this year increased to $137,453.
Township Administrator Garrett Loesch said Johnson's leave is a personnel matter and that the township cannot comment on it or provide details about the exact date it began.
Police Chief Richard Buzby also declined comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
Administrative leave can be used to relieve an employee of duties during an internal investigation or as a result of disciplinary action, Loesch said
When Johnson was placed on administrative leave, he surrendered his weapon to the township police department, Mayor John Kehm said.
Kehm said he understands and shares the police union's frustration over Johnson's extended absence, particularly because the police department remains shorthanded after four officers were laid off in 2010.
" I feel that if he's out of work he shouldn't be paid. I don't like the situation but there are things that need to be done,” Kehm said.
Joel Mahr, president of Policmen's Benevolent Association Local 295 said the issue is a pressing matter.
“To have four officers still laid off and one out on administrative leave for more than two years is of obvious concern to the PBA,” Mahr said.
The average salary of a patrolman on the 40-member department is $102,986, while the average ranking officer's salary is 119,398.
Meanwhile, Johnson's salary continues to increase. When he first went on leave in 2010, he was receiving $128,877 annually, but has received annual raises as part of a collective bargaining agreement. Under the agreement, his salary will increase in 2013 to $140,202 and again in 2014 to $143,005.
Kehm said there is no timeline for Johnson returning from leave.
Retired Little Egg Harbor Township Police lieutenant and township resident John O'Brien was very vocal at Towship Committee meetings about his disapproval when 11 police officers were laid off to close a budget gap.
"I personally think that if they can afford to pay an officer to stay at home they can afford to bring the laid off guys back or bring Don back to work," said O'Brien, a 31-year veteran of the force who retired in 2007.