Two Freeholders Plan ‘Public Listening Tour’ on Police Merger
Less than a week after calling for a referendum on merging the county police and Sheriff’s departments, the two Democrats, Joan Voss and David Ganz, say they want to hear what police and members of the public think.
Bergen County Freeholders David Ganz (D- Fair Lawn) and Joan Voss (D- Fort Lee) Monday announced plans for what they called a “public listening tour” in Bergen County intended to “take the pulse of the people” on a potential referendum on the question of merging the Bergen County Police and Sheriff’s Departments.
“Picking up on a suggestion from Sheriff Michael Saudino, I think we need to also seek the opinion of all sworn police officers as to merging the County Police with the Sheriff’s Department,” Ganz said in a statement.
Voss said the two freeholders “also want to know what the people think,” noting that the she and Ganz have been unsuccessful in their attempts to “persuade” their Republican counterparts on the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders to put a referendum before "the people."
“We are going to ask the people to come to us,” Voss said.
Last week Voss and Ganz renewed their call for a public referendum on county police consolidation with an Aug. 17 filing deadline for ballot questions approaching, but both have said they are undecided on whether they support a merger, unlike County Executive Kathleen Donovan, who has said she is against merging the two departments, and that a referendum can’t go forward without her approval.
County Administrator Ed Trawinski has criticized Ganz in particular for calling for a referendum after denouncing as a “cheap political ploy” a 2005 referendum on the issue of building a $47 million county police building in Hackensack, something Republican Elizabeth Randall, a freeholder at the time, had called for, NorthJersey.com reported.
Ganz however contends that the two are not related, saying a referendum wasn’t needed on the construction of a county police building, but that “with something as fundamental as eliminating the county police,” he wants to hear “what the people have to say,” according to the report.
Voss and Ganz said this week that they are asking municipalities to use their council chambers or courtrooms for a series of Bergen County meetings with citizens, law enforcement professionals and local PBAs.
Voss also emphasized that the freeholders need to know where police officers stand on the question of merging the two law enforcement agencies.
“It will help us evaluate how this important issued should be resolved,” Voss said.
Meanwhile, the board issued a statement Tuesday on the previous day’s meeting, the second Bergen County Law Enforcement Analysis Hearing, at which Saudino, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins and other law enforcement officials were present.
Freeholder Chairman John Mitchell (R-Cliffside Park) called for hearings after the release of the Bergen County Law Enforcement Consolidation Task Force report so that the board and the public can “learn from all three law enforcement agencies in the county.”
“The information and dialog we had last night is invaluable as we now take our next steps.” Mitchell said in the statement, adding that given the importance of the issue, “we cannot rush into any decisions without due process.”
Freeholder Robert Hermansen (R-Mahwah), Chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee, said his focus continues to be “balancing what is fiscally responsible while maintaining or improving public safety.”
“Every option is on the table including a non-binding referendum,” Hermansen said.
The Law and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to continue discussing the issue.