Thursday, June 25th, 2015

The Morris County Board of Freeholders will take over management of the Morris County Jail on Sept. 1, 2015, removing the Sheriff 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.

The freeholders on Wednesday also voted to reject four labor agreements that have been negotiated this year by the Sheriff, 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.

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

Sheriff Rochford declined an invitation to attend a freeholder board work session on Wednesday to discuss these issues, sending two surrogates instead.

The sheriff is currently a joint employer of corrections workers, along with the freeholders, and is subject to county government accounting controls and personnel procedures. The county administrator, through the Office of Labor Relations, and the sheriff have historically cooperated in negotiating contracts.

“But the sheriff did not consult or include the county and has totally ignored his statutory obligations,’’ instead acting solo this year to negotiate and sign labor agreements, which were subsequently ratified by the employees – but with no input from the freeholders, according to the resolutions passed on Wednesday.

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

  •          Corrections Officers PBA Local 298, 7.9 percent annually.
  •          Corrections Officers Superior Union, 5.3 percent.
  •          Sheriff’s Officers PBA 151, 8.3 percent.
  •          Sheriff’s Civilian Employees’ Association, 7.3 percent.
The freeholders contended that “the taxpayers of Morris County are being disrespected’’ by the solo actions taken by the sheriff. 
  
To view the freeholder resolutions on rejection of the contracts, please visit: 
https://morriscountynj.gov/pdfs/Resolution%20rejecting%20contracts.pdf 
  
The Morris County Jail currently has 255 inmates and 165 employees. The census has declined substantially in recent years, dropping from a high of 376 in 2010 and 352 in 2012. But the staff has remained constant since 2010 at 165, while overtime costs have soared from $992,000 in 2010 to $1.9 million last year.
  
The county will immediately start the process of taking steps needed to assume control of the jail in September, said County Administrator John Bonanni.    
 
 Eleven of 20 county jails in New Jersey are currently run directly by county government, with the other nine managed by sheriff’s departments.