HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – The Hamilton Township Committee terminated police officer Donald Bucci at its meeting on June 15. However, in large part due to a complaint by resident and former governing body member Bruce Strigh, the committee held a special meeting on Monday, June 22 to again vote on the termination.
Strigh argued during the public comment session at the previous meeting that the addition of the firing on a late list did not provide proper notice to the public. “This was listed as a late agenda item that I received at 3:12 p.m. today,” he said. “The 48-hour notice requirement was not adhered to. Why could this not wait? It shows a lack of transparency.”
Mayor Art Schenker said that the original vote was not improper, but the special meeting was called as a courtesy to the public.
Attorney Stuart Alterman, along with Bucci, sat in the courtroom at the Hamilton Township Hall on Monday, June 15 expecting to plead for his client who was listed on the agenda for the Hamilton Township Committee meeting to be terminated. Instead, Alterman had to make his plea from outside the building.
The meeting, as was the same for the past three months, took place virtually on YouTube. Due to the governor’s executive order, the meetings have been limited to members of the governing body, Township Administrator Arch Liston, Solicitor Robert Sandman and Township Clerk Rita Martino. All others have had the opportunity to watch the meetings online or by phone.
“We had a situation earlier this evening where the attorney and his client appeared in the courtroom before the meeting,” Sandman said. “I was asked by the mayor and administrator if they should be allowed to be present.”
“This would not be appropriate as everyone else is excluded. It would be an equal protection and due process violation and perhaps a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. Thus, they were escorted out of the room by the police.”
Alterman disagreed. “Not being able to stand in the courtroom and being a part of the hearing is a violation of my client’s rights,” he said. “I had asked if the meeting would be held remotely and did not receive a response. Had I known it would be on YouTube I would have been prepared at my desk with my client alongside.”
“This is not an appropriate way to conduct business especially during a time when people are openly protesting that government act in an appropriate and transparent manner.”
“Your client has the opportunity speak by phone,” Sandman said. “Does he choose to do so?”
“We don’t care to do so by standing at the curb,” Alterman said. “Instead we will seek all appropriate remedies in court.”
“That is your right,” Sandman said.
Sandman advised committee members not to comment due to the attorney’s threat of litigation.
The governing body then voted unanimously to terminate Bucci. Due to personnel reasons, the cause for his dismissal was not disclosed at that time. However, more details came to light at the second meeting.
“To vote for termination would discount nine days of testimony including comments of support for my client by present and former members of the department,” Alterman said. “The township hired a hearing officer whose decisions have been routinely overturned by appeals.”
Alterman said that the reason for the termination dates back to November 20,2017 when then sergeant, and current lieutenant, Christopher Prychka said that Bucci was not present at a location that he was assigned to.
“We provided evidence through video that that was not true,” Alterman said. “Officer Bucci left his car and walked through the development as he had done before. He was not interviewed about the incident until a year later.”
“We hired an expert witness who looked at internal affairs guidelines that were clearly not followed. You should read that report.”
“The hearing officer picked only the most favorable testimony. He wrote a novel.”
“I would like to read the transcript,” Committeeman Rodney Guishard said.
“We have had plenty of time to do the research,” Mayor Art Schenker said.
Committee then again voted 5-0 to terminate Bucci.
“The truth will come out when we appeal,” Alterman said. “The vote to fire him will be very costly.”
“I appreciate that the committee re-advertised to hold another meeting,” Strigh said. As a taxpayer I learned more about the case. The attorney’s testimony raised legitimate questions. I hope it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a lot of money.”