Howell council members ratify new PBA contract; mayor abstains

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HOWELL – Members of the Howell Township Council have voted 4-0 with one abstention to ratify a new contract with the Howell Police Benevolent Association, Local 228, which represents patrol officers in the Howell Police Department.

The PBA’s previous contract expired on Dec. 31, 2019. The new contract runs from Jan. 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2023, according to municipal officials.

During a recent meeting, Deputy Mayor Tom Russo, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond, Councilman John Bonevich and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted “yes” on a motion to ratify the contract.

Mayor Theresa Berger abstained from the vote and said that late in the process she received two pieces of information regarding the PBA contract that appeared on the council’s Feb. 9 agenda.

“One (document) from the Monmouth County Police Chiefs Association and one from (Township Attorney Joseph) Clark. At this point, I have not had time to review either one of those two documents and I do not feel comfortable moving forward with this contract.

“I feel we should pull this contract (from the agenda) so we can review what is going on in these (documents) that were sent to us. I don’t feel we are doing our due diligence if we just let it slide,” Berger said.

Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick is the president of the Monmouth County Police Chiefs Association.

The contents of the documents from the police chiefs association and the township attorney were not disclosed during the council meeting.

Following Berger’s request to remove the item from the agenda, Richmond said, “You are asking to delay this PBA contract that has been in negotiations between the township manager, the PBA and outside labor counsel. Again, I just want to be clear, this is what you are asking for, to delay this contract more than it has already been delayed?”

“I am asking to postpone this contract to our next meeting to allow me the opportunity to review a seven-paragraph email from (the township attorney) … I am personally requesting the ability to do my due diligence and read both documents prior to voting on this project. This is me personally, the rest of you can vote,” Berger said.

Russo said he would never deny a colleague additional time to read what they have to read, but, “With that said, I want to move forward with this agreement ASAP. I think our (men and women) in blue need a contract and I want it done quickly.”

Clark said the PBA contract was negotiated by the township manager, that a labor counsel was involved and that the contract had been ratified by the PBA.

“That is the process, the letter from the police chiefs association certainly is sort of a different animal here. It doesn’t typically happen,” Clark said. “There has been patience on the part of the PBA, they took the good faith step of ratifying the contract themselves. It is up to this council if they want to vote on it. Like I said, I expressed my feelings in my email (to the council).”

Local 228 President James Alexander described the process of reaching a new agreement. He said negotiations between the two sides began in 2019.

“Every step of the way, we have respected the process, we have tried to engage as fairly as possible and I feel like we have gotten the same response from the township back toward us,” Alexander said.

“When the town asked us to suspend negotiations because of COVID, obviously that is the step we are going to take and our membership waited patiently.

“We have been out of a contract for over a year and we go to work every day, and we do our job, and we put a lot of hard work into getting this contract done.

“I am very disappointed we are even at a point where we are considering not voting on this contract today, because we worked so hard to get here,” Alexander said.

Township Manager Brian Geoghegan said municipal officials sought to negotiate a contract that was fair and balanced between the employees and taxpayers.

Geoghegan said the contract the council was being asked to approve that evening was a fair deal for Howell and should be approved. No details of the contract were provided.

Representatives of Local 228 have not responded to requests from the Tri-Town News for comment about the new contract; specifically what the union was seeking in the deal and what was achieved in the final agreement.

Following the discussion during the Feb. 9 meeting, the matter was called and the new PBA contract was approved in the 4-0 affirmative vote, with the mayor’s abstention.