STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — The township’s police union and five township police officers who were laid off March 31 have filed a three-count lawsuit against the township, business administrator and Mayor John McMenamin, a former police lieutenant, demanding that their positions be reinstated immediately.

The civil lawsuit was filed Wednesday by the Stafford Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Local 297, in Ocean County Superior Court and alleges the township has failed to show the economic need for laying off the five officers. It also alleges that the township has refused to provide the police union with financial documents as part of an ongoing contract negotiation.

In February, the township announced that five police officers would be laid off to help close a $2 million budget gap, despite a township ordinance that mandates no member of the Police Department can be removed from office except by the Township Council.

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The lawsuit claims McMenamin and Business Administrator James Moran did not have the authority to order layoffs to members of the Police Department.

Laying off the five officers would save the township about $600,000, township Business Administrator James Moran has said previously.

Neither McMenamin nor Moran returned telephone calls seeking comment Thursday.

The union requested an emergency hearing, and the case is scheduled to be heard Tuesday afternoon before Ocean County Superior Court Judge Vincent J. Grasso.

In the lawsuit, the police union cited a 10-year financial plan prepared by previous Business Administrator Paul Shives in October 2008 that stated the township’s finances were sound.

According to that report, from 2003 to 2008, the township averaged a $3.2 million surplus and consistently received about $3.5 million in state aid from 2004 to 2008, with the exception of 2008, when its state aid was reduced by $200,000.

But even with that loss in state aid, the township did not lay off police officers. Instead, it hired two additional officers that year, who are now being laid off.

In addition to the five police officers who were laid off, three senior police officers will retire in July, saving the township an excess of $400,000, according to the lawsuit.

“The township still has not provided a preliminary 2010 budget that they will submit to the state. What is the reason for laying people off? What’s the urgency? If the budget is not ready, how do they know what they’ll need?” asked PBA attorney Stuart Alterman.

The lawsuit also alleges that the layoffs were an abusive negotiation tactic being used by McMenamin and Moran in retaliation because the PBA declined the township’s contract offer.

The officers’ jobs would have been spared if the PBA accepted a contract offer from the township that provided no raises in 2009 and 3 percent raises through 2012, Moran said at the time. The contract offer also called for all officers on the force to take 10 furlough days this year. PBA officials said the offer was never presented to them by the township in writing.  

The lawsuit contends that the PBA and five officers have been continuously threatened with layoffs and terminations by McMenamin and Moran after negotiation sessions unless they agreed to furlough days and no raises.

“The township has negotiated in public and they’ve attempted to coerce and bully the unions without demonstrating any evidence of economic need,” Alterman said Thursday.

Last month, the PBA hired Raphael J. Caprio, a professor of public administration at Rutgers University, to sift through some of the financial documents that were provided by the township.

In a letter, dated March 31, 2010, Caprio wrote to the PBA attorneys that he did not receive the township’s 2009 annual financial statement, the 2010 tax levy cap calculation or the preliminary revenue and appropriation proposals for the township.

Caprio wrote that these documents have regularly been provided in other municipalities where he has been asked to perform similar assessments. According to Caprio’s letter, he spoke with Moran on March 19, inquiring about the requested materials. Caprio stated that Moran indicated these documents were not yet available and that he was unable to share any of the documents that were requested.

In a separate count in the lawsuit, the police union is alleging that McMenamin is not legally authorized to act as mayor of the township due to a 2007 settlement between him and the township. In that settlement, McMenamin, then a police officer, was paid $177,000 to settle a lawsuit he’d filed claiming he’d been retaliated against for attempting to expose corruption in the department. For his part, McMenamin agreed not to seek employment with the township ever again.

The five officers who were laid off last week were Keith Oler, 41, a 21-year veteran with three young children; Mark Flanagan, who has been on the Stafford force for three years; Chris Smith, 28, a seven-year veteran who left the Barnegat Township force two years ago and has two young children; Edward Kunder, 25, a three-year veteran; and Marisa Fence, 26, who will have her first child in July.

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