"Valentino gives expert testimony before LUARCC"


03-17-10


Brian J. Valentino, President and Principal Consultant of the Long Branch-based Patriot Consulting Group, Inc. testified before New Jersey's Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) on 17 March 2010.

Mr. Valentino, cited in 2009 in a joint resolution of the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly as 'the foremost expert in the field of public safety shared services and consolidation in this state' was invited to give testimony to the Commissioners on the obstacles to shared and consolidated services in municipal police departments.

Mr. Valentino: "Let me begin by thanking you for the opportunity to offer testimony to the Commission. Over the past seven years, the Patriot Consulting Group has dedicated itself to serving the governments of the State of New Jersey and other municipalities by offering professional advice and management to elected and appointed officials seeking ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations and to provide governments that work better and cost less.

As a former municipal administrator, I know firsthand just how difficult it is for municipal governments in particular to find alternatives to traditional methods of providing services, raising revenues and avoiding costs. Municipal leaders in New Jersey are expected to deliver at the very least a minimum cadre of municipal services and are able, according to their own abilities and desires, to deliver a large and varied menu of services at the most. Common to most every municipality in New Jersey is the following two realities of service delivery: 1. If the municipality does not provide most services, no other level of government will and 2. If the municipality provides the service, they are severely limited in the means and methods available to them in terms of management, decision making, financing and self-determination.

In that regard, the much ballyhooed doctrine and farce of “Home Rule” is unfairly used as a slur against Municipal Leaders—an indictment that leaving decisions about local government to local elected leaders is the reason why the cost of government has risen so high—when in fact true Home Rule would eliminate many of the drivers of high cost government services. I say it is a farce because Municipal leaders in New Jersey do not have Home Rule. If they had true home rule, free of determination by state regulations and statutes, we likely would not be here today. Rather, we would find municipal leaders with multiple and innovative methods of revenue generation and cost limitation. We would find municipalities free to determine if and how to provide pension plans to their employees and at what levels and participation rates. We would find the one true level of regional government in the state, our counties, providing services of common application, and especially those relating to the police powers protecting the health, safety, welfare and morals of the community at large to some, most or all of the people within their borders without regard for municipal boundaries. And we would find municipalities who are armed with the tools, techniques, means and methods for determining their own destinies without regard for one size fits all rules and regulations that have little to do with good government and more to do with protectionism and regional and special interests.

No, New Jersey does not have home rule. We have some hybrid of home rule. What should we expect? For a state that is number one in terms of population yet forty seventh in terms of land area, we have a system of state government that has decided over many years and administrations that the same rules that apply to urban cities with population densities of more than 10,000 people per square mile must also apply to the rural communities with less than 2 people per square mile. How can we ever hope to have one set of rules, guidelines and laws that forces municipal operations to be applied and funded identically in communities so diverse as we have?

As a result, we have a situation where these supposedly evil municipal officials wildly and recklessly flaunt their massive and unharnessed Home Rule are instead dictated to. They are told who will receive what pension at what time and under what condition—regardless of local opinion or ability to pay. They are prohibited from asking or even expecting their counties to provide some services because, unless you live in certain classes of counties, the county government is legally prohibited from providing the service on a regional basis. We have municipal officials who are forced to keep services and employees and pay for services and employees in some cases because some rule or statute blindly forces them to do and because no one else can or will.

Even in the most easily and universally understood of municipal services, law enforcement, the rules we have established for the management and maintenance of policing are often based not on the best way to provide the service but to protect certain special interests. For this reason and for many decades, the mere mention or thought of sharing, regionalizing or consolidating municipal law enforcement services has been taboo. The third rail of local politics—touch it and die. It is tough, it is messy, and all too often, after you have jumped through every regulatory and statutory hoop, you are left only with limited options and roadblocks at every turn. It is my hope to help identify these unnecessary hindrances for you and for posterity with the desire of helping to effect change and smooth the road to shared services in law enforcement.

The most elemental of all governmental powers are the so called police powers—the power of the government to protect the safety, health, welfare and morals of the people. Unlike other services like public works or even finance, mistakes made in the proper application of police services carry the possibility of endangering lives, property, rights and liberties. As such, the few and the brave, the majority of that short list of communities who were willing to touch the third rail, responsibly chose to obtain independent, outside and expert advisors, like the Patriot Consulting Group to help them assess their options and navigate through the complexities of sharing police services.

Their reasons for initiating the studies are as varied as the towns involved. Some have no choice—they can no longer provide the police services that modern best practices demand at a cost the community can afford. Inequities in the Binding Arbitration System have forced others to pay more for their police services than the community may want to spend. Others are unsatisfied with the limited leadership options available in their small departments and yet are all but forced to promote from within or face lawsuits and threats of political motives if they chose to hire civilian leadership. Still others believe that their force lacks the experience, expertise, tools or opportunities to deliver a truly functional police force and believe that a shared approach would broaden those variables in a way that would benefit the community. And still others were forced to consider not how to share their police service but how to start up such a service when state police service was targeted for termination.

Over the last four years, our firm has been retained to assist a myriad of New Jersey municipalities tackle the issue of outsourced, regionalized, consolidated or otherwise shared police services. We have learned that significant and responsible savings can be had through innovative approaches to law enforcement service delivery. Redundancies in management and resources in a service area that is near identical in most communities in every manner except size and scope are clearly ripe for consideration of a better way to do business. But then reality sets in.

Despite all of the “excitement” in the State of New Jersey regarding shared services, previous legislatures have done little to make the sharing of law enforcement services easy or, as some may argue, even possible. Although the Joint Legislative Committee on Government Consolidation and Shared Services heard testimony in 2006 that said, in part, that the two largest areas of potential savings from shared services were in the areas of education and public safety, all of the provisions limiting municipalities’ abilities to save money through shared police services were kept in the “new” Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act.

In particular, the terms and conditions of N.J.S.A. 40A:65-8 and 40A:65-17 (Preservation of seniority, tenure, pension rights for law enforcement officers) severely limits the ability of a local governing body from realizing savings by allowing an employee to determine for himself the manner in which he or she will be affected by a consolidation effort. This power, which is clearly a prerogative of management, has been stripped from management to protect the private and personal interests of a very small but politically influential special interest group—the members of the state chiefs of police association.

This statute allows effected chiefs of police to determine for themselves if they will accept demotion or retirement; fully protects their seniority, tenure and pension rights; guarantees them unique and expansive mandatory paid terminal leave; and guarantees them retroactive payment for any increases in compensation or benefits they would have received if they had remained on active duty. The statute does not indicate how long all such benefits and guarantees are required to be maintained.

Furthermore, these are benefits, assurances and guarantees that virtually no other local employee or group of employees receives. It is clearly special legislation passed for private benefit and it severely hampers the decisions and potential savings available to the municipalities. Without the financial incentives afforded through regionalization, the remaining benefits of regionalization would have to be singularly greater to justify regionalization alone.

Additionally, every individual law enforcement officer’s seniority, tenure and pension rights are also fully protected and guaranteed by the statute. No such officer is permitted to be terminated in a regionalization, except for cause and (almost as an afterthought) for “reasons of economy and efficiency.” Again, these are benefits that non-law enforcement officer employees do not have. Instead of permitting municipalities to make business decisions based on the merits of the decision the statute unduly, severely and artificially limits the municipalities to making business decisions based upon external, unrelated and unfunded mandates established by statute.

While not a part of the consolidation statutes, N.J.S.A. 40A:14-129 (Promotion of members and officers in certain municipalities) further hampers municipal regionalization efforts by requiring promotions from within the department. In creating a new department or simply trying to improve an existing one, municipal leaders should be free to exercise maximum latitude in identifying the best individuals to fill command and leadership positions for the new department. This statute has long confounded municipal leaders who, in an effort to improve and advance their often small police departments, are limited to choosing from among the limited number of ranking officers previously hired and promoted within the small department. This artificial limitation of potential candidates protects the private and personal benefits of a special interest group to the detriment of both good government and sound management practices.

Legislative action to ease or even eliminate these restrictions would greatly benefit any municipality hoping to reduce costs through shared police services. Any such action would likely be hard fought by police unions, such as the New Jersey State Policeman’s Benevolent Association, the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police as well as the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, and others.

Legislative funding for this endeavor is (or perhaps I should say WAS, a good potential source of revenue. Special legislative grants at the state levels could be appropriated to offset any portion of this endeavor or to offset the potential savings lost due to special legislation barring municipal leaders from proactively acting to reduce costs in a meaningful way.

Governors could direct staff to aid the municipalities in many ways. Grants could and should be provided to benefit communities such as these that are trying to make the “difficult decisions.”

Personnel rules could be written to ease the transition from multiple departments to one regional department. The Governor could urge the legislature to change or drop the special protection provisions from NJSA 40A:65-8, et. seq. with the understanding that difficult decisions such as this require difficult action by the legislature. But perhaps most realistically, the Governor, in concert with the Legislature, could enact legislation that rewards municipalities for sharing law enforcement services by reinstating the grants that fund responsible studies, reinstating lost municipal aid, providing incentive funding upon the actual adoption of shared agreements, and generally make this an easier and more cost-effective process.

In closing, I understand and appreciate the solemn duty that you few of my fellow citizens are faced with. In exercising the public trust, you will be asked to report on how to streamline county and municipal services. In some regards, the timing is ideal—we are no doubt in a perfect financial storm. In other regards, the timing is terrible. Being forced to consider and/or implement shared, regional or consolidated police services under financial, legislative, executive or regulatory duress or under threat of further and self inflicted injury is absolutely abysmal public policy. I do not envy you this sacred trust you possess, because if it is true, as the proverb states, that “a camel is a horse designed by committee”, so are the complexities and roadblocks built into our law enforcement public administration and policy. So while the economic climate is ideal, both theoretically and realistically, to serve as an incubator of shared police services, that incubator looks a lot like a camel to me.”