Thursday, March 15, 2012

Some Background Information

On Conflicts of Interest in Englewood Cliffs

From the New York Times, A Town Where the Neighbors are in Everybody's Business,


On Hiring Practices in Englewood Cliffs
From the Record:  Police chief favored son, friends

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS - Aspiring police officers lined up outside the police station here in October for an application to work in this affluent, quiet borough. Many were turned away.

But the son and friends of Police Chief Lawrence Whiting appear to have gotten special treatment during the ongoing hiring process, an investigation by The Record has found.

The chief's son, a councilwoman's two sons and the chief's friend's son received applications through unusual circumstances, according to phone records and officers in the department.

The borough had advertised in The Record and the Herald News that candidates must appear in person Oct. 4 to apply and pay a $75 fee. Only 100 applications were given out, and all were gone by 11 o'clock that morning, according to police officers and a sign posted on the door.

"I got down there, they were out," said Brendan Phillips of Norwood. "I was kind of disappointed."

"I get the feeling that they know who they're going to hire before they start the process," said Phillips, speaking of small-town police departments in general. "So they just go through the formality of it."

Chief Whiting's son Chris, a patrolman in Ridgefield Park, received an application. But Chris Whiting was working Oct. 4 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., said Ridgefield Park Police Chief Dieter Ahrlich.

Two Englewood Cliffs police officers who asked to remain anonymous said that Chris Whiting has passed the physical and written tests and is among the finalists being considered for the position.

"You can't advertise that there will be 100 applications and then hold some back for your friends," said one of the police officers.

After seeing the job opening, Councilwoman Pat Drimones called Chief Whiting in late September to get applications for her two sons, Christian, 25, and Nick, 20.

"I said, Nicky's going back to school, and he said, don't worry, I'll hold them for you," Drimones told The Record later. "I didn't think there was anything wrong with that."

Christian Drimones stood in line on Oct. 4, but the applications ran out before he got one, his mother said. Police tapes then show that his mother called the station at 11:31 a.m., and told Patrolmen Keith Wicker that Whiting was holding two applications for her. Wicker had just told two previous callers the applications were all gone.

Wicker put Drimones on hold and then returned to the phone and told her to send her son back to the station.

Drimones, who has a brother on the force, said later that neither of her sons had become finalists.

About 185 of the New Jersey's 480 local police departments participate in the civil service system, which has strict rules for testing and hiring prospective cops.

For the other departments, such as Englewood Cliffs, municipal officials can pass laws guiding the hiring and promoting of police officers, said Ed Kologi, a Linden-based lawyer who specializes in municipal and police issues.

Englewood Cliffs' hiring ordinance does not address how applications should be given out, but it does say the borough "may" require physical, mental or psychological exams. The mayor and council give final approval to the police committee's candidate recommendations.

Joseph DelGreco, a retired Passaic cop, also called the station Oct. 4 and asked to speak to the chief. He mentioned that his son Joseph wanted an application but couldn't get one that morning.

"Chief, Joseph worked EMS last night, he got off late," he said on the tape. "He missed the uh, one of the times, uh, for getting the applications. I thought it was an |all-day thing."

"Is it totally cut off or you think you could get one?" he asked the chief.

"Hold on one second," Whiting replied. "Oh, okay, good. Yeah, I think we can. Believe it or not, I have, 'cause you know what? I just held back, just in case."

"Okay, can I send him down now?" DelGreco said.

"Yeah, send him down and tell him when he comes to the desk to see me," Whiting said.

Whiting, a past president of the Bergen County chief's association, did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him by phone, letter, and visits to his home and workplace.

Kologi said he has never heard of a police department handing out applications on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"This isn't like a quest for Yankees tickets," he said. "I don't think the person who gets up earliest and decides to wait in line puts the municipality in the best position of finding qualifying candidates."

If favoritism was also a factor in Englewood Cliffs, then "it just diminishes credibility and confidence in the hiring system," added Kologi, an associate counsel with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

"We're in a situation where public confidence in government appears to be eroding more and more. If things like this occur, if they are in fact occurring, it contributes to that."

Phillips, from Norwood, said he would not give up on his goal of becoming a police officer. "I'm going to put myself through the academy to get around all this politics that's involved," he said.

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