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Taylor, O’Connor Spin Court’s Bigley Decision 6.14.2006

By Rick Racela

CREST HAVEN – Moments after Acting Superior Court Assignment Judge William C. Todd’s Bigley ruling rolled off fax machines June 8, the freeholders and the prosecutor were putting out their spins.
The judge’s 36-page opinion gave good news and bad news to each side, plenty for each to use in claiming partial victory.
Prosecutor Robert Taylor noted he got “three-quarters of what I needed before we even went to work (filed Bigley),” wage increases for 18 people, and “encouragement” that the judge agrees the Prosecutor’s office is understaffed and underpaid.
The judge wrote that the “workload…is substantially above the average or median…around the  state” and “current salaries and wages are below the state averages.”
County Administrator Steve O’Connor went the “bottom line” route, agreeing that the judge awarded  raises to 18 people, but not to 33 others, that Taylor got $64,761 in  pay hikes compared to $396,333 requested, and the judge did not touch personnel covered by four multi-year contracts.
There’s no denying the case and the decision were complex.  The Press of Atlantic City story June 9 headlined,  “Prosecutor’s Suit Succeeds.”  It rehashed the article the next day and headlined, “County, Prosecutor Both Claim Victory in Settlement of Suit.”
The pre-Bigley negotiations over number of staff and amount of space went smoothly and without rancor, resulting in compromises that apparently satisfied both sides.
But the Bigley filing over pay went sour and this controversy won’t be over until the fat lady sings. Taylor probably wants Ella Fitzgerald, O’Connor probably wants Kate Smith.  Both are dead.
The county is expected to appeal Todd’s opinion, with a decision on that expected in a closed session last night. If it does, Taylor said he will cross-appeal the collective bargaining issues he lost.
The bleak picture is that the county likely will fail to approve future pay increases equal to what Taylor deems necessary, and Taylor will be filing more and more Bigley actions, something he said Todd’s opinion “invites.”
From these proceedings, it has become clear that Taylor, not O’Connor, will bargain with Prosecutor employes. Taylor told this newspaper he expects to invite O’Connor to “sit in.”
“If he invites me to participate, I will participate,” O’Connor told this newspaper.
There’s a difference between sit in and participate.
The first opportunity to see how this works presumably will come in October when the contract for assistant prosecutors is reopened.
The judge said he was “satisfied” that Taylor’s budget requests for the10 assistant prosecutors and six noncontract  personnel were “appropriate.” He granted them, retroactive to Jan. 1.
The judged conceded that the increase for the assistant prosecutors was not “essential” to the operation of the prosecutor’s office, saying they would continue in their jobs without a hike.  But, said the judge, the  prosecutor’s desire to bring their pay to the state average was “appropriate.”
The judge also granted increases to two persons in “unique positions,” First Assistant Prosecutor J. David Meyer and Chief of Detectives James Rybicki. The judge called Taylor’s arguments to increase their salaries “particularly compelling.”
For Meyer, in particular, the county position was quite different and quite passionate.  It felt 90 percent of what Taylor makes was “fair and equitable, and brought Meyer along in recent years to his current $126,900, which is 90 percent of Taylor’s $141,000.
But Taylor asked for Meyer to get $138,550, and the judge gave him $138,321.
Taylor wanted a $12,228 increase for Rybicki, bringing him to $104,830. He got $6,290, bringing him to $111,120.
Taylor and O’Connor were able to look at the same increases for those 18 people and see them quite differently. 
Taylor was “pleased,” but O’Connor compared what they received to what Taylor had requested.  The 18 received $64,761, he said, compared to $137,674 Taylor asked,  a difference of $72,913.
O’Connor, with years of collective bargaining experience, was thankful the judge did not order long-term contracts reopened, but apprehensive about the judge’s apparent indication that Taylor can file Bigley appeals on future settlements.
Todd wrote that “in future years, the court would not foreclose the presentation of a Bigley application related to the collective bargaining process.”
“Each time the freeholders don’t give him (Taylor) what he wants,” said O’Connor, “he can go to court and ask the judge to be the arbitrator. That’s what it does to the collective  bargaining process.”
That would be one of the arguments cited in any appeal, he indicated, a challenge of “the scope of Bigley.”
In  addition to any appeal, said O’Connor, the county was “developing language” for legislation that would require the state to pay any amount resulting from Bigley action that was over the county cap.
Prior to the Bigley filing, the two sides agreed on the following:
The county agreed to fund the hiring and equiping of three additional investigators, one assistant prosecutor and two part-time secretaries, a total cost of $382,000.
In addition, both sides agreed to have an independent manpower review whose results would be accepted.
Both also agreed to have an architect do a facilities assessment of the current Prosecutor’s building and the third floor of the county courthouse, which Taylor has eyed for his department.  There apparently is no agreement on what would follow. The county has questioned whether the  court has the authority to deal with that.
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or: jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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