ATLANTIC CITY — State overseer Jeffrey Chiesa said Friday that lawsuits against him are no more than “money grabs” by public safety unions.
Ahead of a noon rally against cuts to the city’s police and fire departments, Chiesa called into Harry Hurley’s WPG radio show to discuss his proposed public safety cuts and the lawsuits they’ve sparked.
“Unfortunately now we are confronted with two lawsuits that are simple money grabs,” Chiesa said. “They have nothing to do with public safety. This is an effort to protect high salaries. It’s an effort to protect boat checks, which are the extremely large checks some of these officers will be entitled to when they retire.”
Chiesa, who is billing taxpayers $400 an hour to oversee the city’s finances, plans to lay off 100 firefighters and 24 police officers to cut costs in the cash-strapped city. In addition, the state seeks to slash salaries, increase hours and eliminate some benefits. The cuts to police would save the city $20 million, while the reductions at the fire department would save $14 million, according to the state.
The city’s police and firefighters unions, which argue the staff cuts would put public safety at risk, have sued the state to block the cuts. A Superior Court judge still hasn’t ruled on whether the cuts can proceed.
Chiesa said the state’s unilateral contract changes are necessary to fix the city’s finances.
“Those are things the people of Atlantic City can’t afford,” Chiesa said of union contracts. “They’re completely overwhelmed with high taxes, and there’s no pathway to sustain the city financially and continue to ignore the high salaries and other benefits and costs associated with these contracts.”
The city’s police union, Police Benevolent Association Local 24, gave rapid response on Twitter to Hurley’s interview with Chiesa.
“The misinformation being spread right now is disheartening and a sad insight into why we had to do what we had to do,” the union tweeted.
"We cut salary and 'boat checks.' The only money grab here is coming from the state selected law firms," another Tweet said.
Union representatives and Mayor Don Guardian will speak at a noon news conference in City Hall to kick off a campaign against the cuts. The campaign will include billboards, direct mail, online advertising and other activities. After the news conference, public safety workers will hand out fliers on the Boardwalk.
Chiesa dismissed the rally as a “show” and repeatedly said the unions’ objections to the cuts aren’t about public safety. To make this point, Chiesa said he asked Police Chief Henry White to make a list of officers who could be laid off. Instead of making a merit-based list, the chief chose the youngest and newest officers, Chiesa said.
“There’s nothing about that decision that advances public safety,” Chiesa said. “This is about protecting the highest-salaried individuals.”
PBA Local 24 said White doesn't have authority to make decisions related to layoffs.
“Chief is not the appointing authority state knows this,” the union tweeted. “If they wish to fire employees, state can do it. Don't put on chief.”