Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

A transition team has been formed by the Morris County freeholders to help format a smooth takeover of the Morris County Jail from the sheriff as of Sept. 1, 2015, with several former key sheriff’s and corrections officials to play a prominent role in this effort.

The transition team that will hold its first meeting next week will include former Undersheriffs Ralph McGrane and Frank Corrente, whom the sheriff entrusted with management of the in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including the closing of the old jail, opening of the new county jail and initiation of a new management style. 

Also on the transition team will be former Undersheriff Staci Santucci, former Morris County Chief Sheriff’s Officer Gerard Marinelli, County Administrator John Bonanni, County Department of Law & Public Safety Director Scott Di Giralomo, County Manager of Labor Relations Allison Stapleton, and County Finance Director/Treasurer Joseph Kovalcik.

The Sheriff recently advised the freeholders that, in his opinion, the freeholder board and county administration are no longer co-employers in the jail, breaking a longstanding tradition, and that he had the legal authority to solely execute labor agreements that relate to the jail.

This interpretation by the sheriff, that he alone controls the jail, came as a surprise to the freeholders and presents a significant long term financial risk to county taxpayers, since he recently negotiated contracts with pay increases of up to nearly 30 percent.

As a result, the Board of Freeholders voted unanimously last week, with one abstention, to take over management of the County Jail on Sept. 1, removing the sheriff as manager of jail operations. It would make Morris County the 12th county in New Jersey to have direct control of its county jail.

The objective of transition would be to simply enact an organizational change that would put the county administration directly in charge of the jail and have the warden report to the county Department of Law and Public Safety. The county already has reached out to key state and county agencies, including the state Civil Service Commission, county prosecutor, and the courts, to inform them of the pending change.  

The freeholders, in making their decision, cited ongoing major fiscal differences with the sheriff, a general lack of communication by the sheriff with the county administration on numerous key issues, and his unwillingness to cooperate with the County Office of Labor Relations, which has historically negotiated all labor contracts for the county.

The freeholders anticipate few logistical changes in jail operation, and have no plans for layoffs. The goal is for the very professional staff at the jail to continue its quality work, to ensure safety and security at the jail, while the county takes over management of the jail.

The freeholders contend the sheriff knowingly negotiated contracts this year that far exceed the 2 percent hard cap the county has on potential pay hikes – based on Gov. Christie’s limits for increases in government spending. In that regard, the freeholders’ last week rejected all four contracts that have been negotiated this year solely by the sheriff, including:

  • Corrections Officers PBA Local 298, 7.9 percent annually, or 24 percent over three years.
  • Corrections Officers Superior Union, 5.3 percent annually or 22 percent over four years.
  • Sheriff’s Officers PBA 151, 8.3 percent annually, or 25 percent over three years.
  • Sheriff’s Civilian Employees’ Association, 7.3 percent, or 29 percent over four years.
The sheriff also has declined to account for major overtime increases at the jail, with overtime costs doubling in the past few years despite a 30 percent reduction in the number of inmates. 
In 2008, the county paid $864,251 in overtime to jail officers. The average daily inmate census then was 328. In 2014, overtime was $1.9 million and the average daily inmate population was 299. So far this year, the population has averaged 255 and overtime has already cost nearly $1 million.

It should be noted that Morris County offers the highest starting salary, at $44,000, for corrections officers in any county in New Jersey, and has the fifth highest maximum salary for corrections officers.

State law allows freeholder boards to “exercise the custody, rule, keeping and charge of county jails.’’ Morris County would join Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Hunterdon, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean, Union and Warren counties in having direct control of its jail.

Sheriff Rochford declined an invitation to attend the freeholder board work session last week to discuss important jail issues, sending two representatives instead. He was supposed to participate in the event via a conference call but did not call in to the meeting at which he knew key issues relating to the jail would be discussed.

To view the freeholder resolutions on rejection of the contracts, please visit:
http://morriscountynj.gov/pdfs/Resolution%20rejecting%20contracts.pdf 

To view the freeholder’s jail take over resolution, please visit: http://morriscountynj.gov/pdfs/resolution%20jail%20takeover.pdf