MULLICA TOWNSHIP — Two weeks after giving police Chief John Thompson a new contract and retroactive raise, Township Committee approved his request to be put on paid leave through the end of the year, when he will retire.
Capt. Brian Zeck, son-in-law of Mayor Chris Silva, has moved into the position of acting chief, said Committeewoman Kristi Hanselmann, per state police rules and regulations.
After an executive session at Tuesday night’s committee meeting, the governing body voted to authorize Thompson’s request for a six-month administrative leave.
Only Committeeman Jim Brown voted against the authorization. Silva, who recused himself from the executive session, abstained.
“To me the whole thing just smells,” said Brown. “We don’t have that kind of money. It seems like trying to throw somebody a bone to retire early.”
Thompson will collect about $104,000 over the next six months. About $62,000 comes from his salary, while the remaining $42,000 will come from retroactive salary for the years 2016 through 2019 from the new contract.
Thompson, 44, declined to comment.
At the June 11 meeting, Hanselmann read a statement from Thompson denying rumors he was being pressured to retire.
“The Press has reported that I’m being forced to retire by the township,” Hanselmann read. “This is not true. If I, and when I, elect to retire, it will be my choice.”
“There is no story here,” township labor attorney John Hegerty said in an email Wednesday.
Hegerty said after Thompson’s new contract was approved at the June 11 meeting, “the chief then decided that this would be his final contract and ... gave the township his six-month notice of his intent to retire,” Hegerty wrote.
Hegerty said the chief requested the leave for personal reasons and “the township agreed that it was in (its) best interest to turn over the day-to-day operation of the Police Department during this transitional period, as well as the chief’s best interest to grant this request.”
The chief had requested months ago that his contract be reopened, Hegerty said, “following the negotiation of the captain’s contract.” Zeck had negotiated with Hanselmann a 2019 salary that was within $1,000 of Thompson’s 2019 salary under the old chief contract.
Thompson had also proven, Hegerty said, that he was paid far less than other Atlantic County chiefs of police.
Thompson’s new contract requires him to “transfer all authority and responsibility to his successor” six months prior to retirement.
But he must “make himself available by email, phone or by arranged meeting at the acting chief’s request to assist, advise or provide training to the acting chief,” according to the contract.
Brown said Thompson was supposed to turn in his vehicle, gun and badge Wednesday.
Under the previous contract, the chief was required to transfer full control to his successor for a period of just 90 days prior to retirement.
At the June 11 meeting, the committee voted to change its requirements under the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program to require the chief of police to have just 24 years of service with the township — down from 25 previously — to retire with full health benefits.
Thompson will have 24 years of service this year.
The township has opened an internal affairs investigation against Thompson, according to a resolution to approve a settlement agreement with him that was pulled from voting at the last minute at a May meeting. But that did not factor into the administrative leave request or granting, Hegerty said.
Thompson’s new contract raised his 2019 salary from $113,500 to $128,500. In 2020, Thompson would receive $129,500 if he stayed in the job.
The new contract increases his annual salary by $6,000 for 2016, $9,000 for 2017, $12,000 for 2018, $15,000 for 2019 and $14,000 for 2020. That’s a total increase of $56,000 for five years.
Township personnel policies allow full-time workers to request paid leave.
“Unusual or extenuating circumstances may arise that warrant granting a period of paid leave which does not fall under any of the other leave policies,” according to the township’s personnel policies. “Administrative leave is considered time worked for the purposes of computing pay; vacation, personal and sick leave accruals, and holiday eligibility.”
The committee also voted Tuesday to change the departmental oversight of some committee members.
Silva had been in charge of public safety, with oversight of the Police Department. He is now head of administration, and Committeeman Larry Riffle is moving to public safety, Silva said.