Morris Sheriff released from County Jail; Rochford fires back

Freeholders will take over management of the Morris County Jail Sept. 1.

Morris County Freeholders with Mayor Barberio in happier times.

The Morris County Board of Freeholders will take over management of the Morris County Jail on September 1, 2015, removing Sheriff Edward Rochford as manager of jail operations.

Citing state law that allows freeholder boards to “exercise the custody, rule, keeping and charge of county jails,’’ the freeholder board voted Wednesday night to direct the county administrator to take all steps needed to assume direct control of the county lockup, which is located in Morris Township. The vote was 6-0. Freeholder John Cesaro abstained.

The freeholder board, in making its decision, cited ongoing fiscal differences with the sheriff, including excessive raises negotiated with corrections unions and huge overtime increases at the jail despite a marked reduction in the number of inmates. They also cited the sheriff’s unwillingness to cooperate with the County Office of Labor Relations, which has historically negotiated all labor contracts for the county, and with a general lack of communications on many issues.

Under Sheriff Rochfords watch The correctional facility received accreditation through the American Correctional Association (ACA), one of only two jails in the state and one of only 145 county jails nationwide to do so.

The freeholders on Wednesday also voted to reject four labor agreements that have been negotiated this year by Sheriff Rochford, including two with corrections unions.

“The county has determined that it is in the best interests of Morris County to have the Morris County Freeholder Board assume complete and sole oversight of the corrections facility,’’ according to the resolution passed by the county governing board on Wednesday night. “ The County Administrator and County Counsel are hereby directed to take all necessary actions to implement this transfer…’’ according to the freeholder resolution.

Late this afternoon, Rochfords office issued the following statement:

We are still digesting all that transpired in the middle of the night as this comes as a complete shock to us.  Never once was there expressed concern or a phone call made with regards to the management of the jail. There is no justification for taking over the jail as it has just received national accreditation for the 11th year in a row ranking it in the top 1% of all jails in the entire country.  Chris Christie’s own State Comptroller studied all state jails and reported our jail as the 5th lowest out of the 21 counties for overtime spending. The jail is currently undergoing its annual inspection from the state and is expecting to receive a 100% as in past years. 

“This is an abuse of power by the Freeholders.  They are playing with the taxpayers’ safety for their own political purposes.  They are legally allowed to take over the jail but it makes no fiscal sense to do so and the taxpayers should look to Warren and Ocean Counties where the jail was taken over by their respective Freeholder Boards and then returned to the Sheriff because it was an expense and a liability they did not actually want to bear.” Rochford explains.  The Freeholders spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with study after study trying to justify dismantling the Bureau of Law Enforcement and creating a county police but despite their best attempts, the public outcry shut that down.  Now they are after the jail without any due diligence but rather, just because they can.

The idea of setting up a meeting with the Freeholders to discuss the signed contracts only was originated two months ago in a meeting with County Administrator, John Bonanni.  The Freeholders conveniently chose a day that the Sheriff had to be out of town at a professional commitment.  Our very own Morris County chief, Chief Wagner from Denville was being sworn in as the 100th President of the Chiefs Association.  This is a huge deal for the county and every law enforcement leader was in attendance to show support.  The Sheriff requested on three separate occasions to have the meeting rescheduled citing the importance of this event, to no avail. No professional courtesy was given to reschedule.  He agreed to call into the meeting via phone so he could participate but he was not able to connect to which the county officials claimed was due to “technical difficulties” on their end; leaving Rochford unable to participate in the meeting at all.

There was no public announcement of this Resolution on the agenda which is simply downright unethical.  In fact, Freeholder Cesaro claimed at the meeting that he also didn’t know anything about this and suggested publically at the meeting that the vote be held off until the Sheriff could have an opportunity to speak, however the board charged forward.  Perhaps it is actions like this that caused Cesaro to separate himself from the losing incumbents Scapicchio and Krikus because he holds himself to a higher code of ethics. 

The Bureau of Corrections has seen a spike in overtime due to the continued mass departures resulting from the egregiously uncompetitive salaries. Since 2012, we have lost 39% of our new officers within their first two years.  This equates to close to $800,000 in training costs of replacement officers and close to the same amount for overtime to fill the void of the departing officers during the lapse of time required to get a new officer approved, through the academy and up and running.  The Sheriff has addressed this with the Board of Chosen Freeholders and County officials but they have disrespectfully ignored him and his 50 years of law enforcement experience.

The Sheriff, with reaffirmed authority to do so after the May 2014 Bergen Case decision of Sheriff Saudino vs. rouge Executive Administrator Donovan, had to take things in his own hands and negotiate a reasonable contract, giving back the steps back that were taken away in their last contract; steps that are standard in this profession across the country.  “The Freeholders tout a $60 million surplus, much of which they accumulated off the backs of our employees in the years they took away their steps and gave them a zero percent increase.  That has hurt the agency and ultimately the county tremendously as the financial drain from this constant loss of officers has grown out of control.  As an agency we have spent roughly $1.2 million in each of the last two years in training replacements.  That doesn’t even include the money we spent on the overtime that occurred due to the void.  These new contracts collectively total about $600,000 in additional salary and wages which is less than half of what we are spending each year in replacements. The Sheriff has brought this to the attention of the Freeholders many times, too many to innumerate, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. In fact, the Freeholders spent over four years litigating and repeatedly appealing the last Corrections union contract spending an exorbitant amount of taxpayer’ money only to be hammered by the Appellate court on the 5th appeal.  The Freeholders have used the taxpayer funds as their bottomless pit to beat down their opponents in the court room.

In this last election of the Freeholders, each candidate was asked in a public debate if they would spend 50 cents to save a dollar, to which every single one of them unequivocally agreed that they would.  This is essentially what we have here.  Increase our salary and wages by $600,000 and we will save the county far more than $1.2 million a year. 

In short, the Sheriff has negotiated in good faith with his unions for the best interest of the agency and the county at large.  He has always remained fiscally responsible and conscientious.  He has acted within his legal rights and dutiful responsibilities.  The contracts are within the salary ranges set forth by the governing body themselves for county law enforcement.  The salaries three years from now will still be lower than those the Prosecutor’s Office enjoy today so there should not be any issue.  The Freeholder Board is interfering with the Sheriff’s ability to run the agency in his fiscally conservative ways and as a result have created this overtime issue that they are now touting as mismanagement.