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Prosecutor, Freeholders Will Take Shot at Mediation 4.26.2006

By Rick Racela

COURT HOUSE — Freeholders and county Prosecutor Robert Taylor have agreed to give mediation a chance in their disagreement over Taylor’s requests for more personnel and space that the county says could cost as much as $9 million.
Acting Superior Court Assignment Judge William Todd, scheduled to begin hearings on Taylor’s action May 8, suggested the mediation.
It will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow with retired Superior Court Judge Anthony Gibson in his Linwood offices.
As mediator, Gibson would attempt to resolve the issues by getting both sides to agree on a compromise.  If they don’t, the regular hearings would go on as scheduled.
Both Taylor and County Administrator Steve O’Connor said they were “hopeful.”
Taylor, March 15, filed the Bigley action, named for the Camden County prosecutor whose  1969 case set the precedent for such appeals.
Taylor says freeholders have underfinanced the Office of the Prosecutor for years, and increases in criminal activities plus responsibilities under homeland security justify his requests for as many as 18 additional staff members.
He also wants 19,000 additional square feet of office space, and has suggested the third floor of the  county courthouse here.
Freeholders barely budged during 2006 budget deliberations and did not respond to Taylor’s request they negotiate.  He filed his action the day after the county adopted its $126-million budget.
In the war of words that followed, O’Connor has indicated the county will especially challenge Taylor’s request to reopen contracts and change salary scales.  O’Connor, who negotiated those contracts, has said the Prosecutor’s staff has received  “substantial increases in salaries.”
Taylor, in a news release, has charged freeholders are “turning a blind eye to the very alarming and dangerous trends in drug dealing, drug usage, drug addiction and overdoses” in the county.
The two sides haven’t even been able to agree on how many new hires the Prosecutor’s office has received in recent years.
Taylor has the backing of the Division of Criminal Justice of the state Attorney General’s Office.
He said he and Chief of Detectives James Rybicki will meet with Judge Gibson. O’Connor said the county would be represented by himself and attorney Russell Lichtenstein.
The appeal by Democrat Taylor has caused somewhat of a split on the all-Republican freeholder board.  Freeholders Ralph Sheets, liaison to the Prosecutor, Gerald M. Thornton and Ralph Bakley, voted in budget deliberations to increase the Prosecutor’s staff by three people.
Freeholder-Director Daniel Beyel and Freeholder Leonard Desiderio voted against any increase.
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or: jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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