Friday, September 22, 2023

County-Prosecutor Disagreement Gets Personal 6.7.2006

By Rick Racela

COURT HOUSE – Arguments got close to personal June 1 as the county urged Acting Assignment Judge William Todd not to order collective bargaining agreements reopened so the prosecutor can give wage increases to his staff.
Attorney Russell Lichtenstein, representing the freeholders, asked if Prosecutor Robert Taylor was interested in boosting the pay of Office Manager Glennda R. Austin and Chief of Detectives James Rybicki as “a salary issue or a pension issue?”
Pensions are based on the last three years’ salaries of retirees.
“There is a difference between collective bargaining and taxpayer giveaway,” said Lichtenstein.
Austin, on the payroll since 1971, currently makes $64,328. Taylor has proposed bringing her to $90,796 by 2008.
Rybicki, on the payroll since 1980, currently makes $104,830.  Taylor has proposed bringing him to $117,000 this year.
Taylor told this newspaper June 2 that neither is retiring, but both appear on a list of persons “eligible for retirement” which must be provided to the freeholders each year for budget implications. Both are well below the state average, he said.
“The prosecutor has fallen flat on establishing a need (to increase salaries),” said Lichtenstein during the 90-minutes of closing arguments. “He has asked for salary increases for the sake of salary increases.”
Taylor responded that increased pay was “a necessity” and “constant improvement can only be expected when compensation is adequate.”
“What is it we’re deciding?” asked Lichtenstein.  “Not whether the prosecutor’s employes would like more money.  Everybody would like more money. Not whether Prosecutor Taylor can make himself the best boss in the world by handing out taxpayers’ money…”
They were in court, said Lichtenstein to determine whether pay increases were necessary to improve the prosecutor’s ability to “arrest, indict and incarcerate.”
 “More money is not going to make any difference,” he charged.
He also pointed to prior testimony by First Assistant Prosecutor J. David Meyer that employes work a 35-hour-week and receive “informal comp time” when they go over 35 hours.
“What does that say about their true work load?” he asked.
 Lichtenstein said Taylor was on “a slippery slope” when he raised the issue of employe morale.
“Where are the people suffering bad morale?” asked Lichtenstein.
“If nobody quits,” said Taylor, “does that mean everybody is satisfied?”
He insisted that employe “morale, efficiencies and effectiveness” are linked to compensation, and his office has among the highest workloads and lowest pay scales in the state.
Lichtenstein appeared to set the groundwork for the county’s announced efforts to repeal or change the Bigley procedure by which a prosecutor can appeal his budget to the courts.
“You do not sit as some super Human Relations director,” Lichtenstein said to the judge. “You are sitting as a legislator. We elect public officials to set budgets. If you rule favorably, you are opening the floodgates. It will be Bigley, Bigley, Bigley.”
Judge Todd conceded he has some questions about two timing issues:
Â¥ Since Bigley applies only to the current budget year, how can he get involved with multi-year contracts?
Â¥ What is the effect of his ruling with the county considering manager pay increases in July?
With that July 1 date in mind, Taylor suggested that, if he had to come in after that and ask for pay increases, the judge consider reopening this Bigley action rather than the need to file a new one.
Todd said he anticipates issuing “some kind of order within two weeks” and possibly even the end of this week.
This controversy went to court after Republican freeholders approved a 2006 budget that did not give Democrat Taylor much of what he requested.
The next day, Taylor filed the Bigley action, named for the precedent-setting 1969 case by Camden County Prosecutor Donald Bigley.
In addition to reopening employe contracts, Taylor asked for 18 additional personnel, all the necessary equipment and vehicles to support them, and an additional 18,000 square feet.
These were negotiated with these results:
The county agreed to fund the hiring of three additional investigators, one assistant prosecutor and two part-time secretaries and both sides agreed to have an independent manpower review over which Judge Todd retains jurisdiction.
The two sides agreed to have an architect do a facilities assessment of the current Prosecutor’s building and the county courthouse, whose third floor Taylor has suggested be used for his   office.
Any change in space would not take effect until the 2007 budget.
But neither side would give on Taylor’s request to reopen collective bargaining contracts.
Taylor’s actions have been supported by the state Office of the Attorney General.
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or:

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