---Hillside’s mayor and police chief are in the midst of a protracted and fierce disagreement about spending, hiring and promotions that could end up being arbitrated by Union County or even state authorities.
Mayor Joseph Menza said he has filed a complaint with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office for what he says is the chief’s unnecessary and deliberate overspending on overtime and promotions, which has forced him to seek funding from elsewhere in the budget.
"He’s putting his entire department in jeopardy," Menza said.
"Not only did he do nothing, he ignored me," Menza said, chiefly by promoting six officers to acting titles.
Quinlan said he has been handcuffed by the mayor’s reluctance to hire needed officers and that a dwindling pool of cops has left him no choice but to assign overtime to keep the township safely policed.
"This township requires a highly visible police presence and a strong police department," Quinlan said.
He said that was necessitated by the town’s proximity to "high-crime areas." Hillside shares borders with Elizabeth, Irvington and Newark.
Quinlan said the department lost 10 officers in the last few years, mostly through retirements, bringing the number of sworn officers down to 67.
"My department has been drastically reduced," he said.
"He’s refused to hire" more officers, he said of Menza, who is up for re-election this year.
Quinlan, with the department since 1979, the last 10 years as chief, was adamant he had not purposefully defied the mayor.
"To assert that I’ve deliberately exceeded my budget is absurd," he said.
Hillside’s budget is put together by the mayor, with some input from department heads.
Menza said Quinlan needlessly promoted six officers this fall which, over a full year, will cost $75,000 in additional wages, an amount which he said would nearly pay for three new officers’ annual salaries.
"We have more than enough" police officers," Menza said. "We just don’t have them where they belong. And that’s the issue. I have too many behind the desk."
Quinlan said the promotions were essential to keep the department cohesive and running smoothly as it battles through staffing issues, including in supervisory positions.
"Every single promotion I have recommended has been vitally necessary to the operation and supervision of the police department," he said.
Quinlan last year filed a multi-count complaint in Superior Court against Hillside and Menza that alleges, among other things, breach of employment contract, violation of the state’s whistleblower act and age discrimination.
Quinlan’s attorney, Damian Shammas, said Menza’s public admonitions of Quinlan and his pledges to bring the matter to law enforcement amount to reprisals for the filing of the suit, which is in the discovery phase.
"We just think this is a continued pattern of bullying, intimidation and retaliation against my client," Shammas said. "The mayor is undeterred."
Menza deflected that assessment.
"This has to do with his responsibilities as a department director," he said. "We wouldn’t be taking about this if he had taken corrective action. I would have no issue with him."
Menza said he would discuss the matter with the state Attorney General’s Office in the coming weeks.
Quinlan said he would look forward to a thorough inquiry of his stewardship.
"I welcome an investigation by the prosecutor’s office, the attorney general’s office, the FBI, or anybody else that this mayor cares to bring his concerns to," Quinlan said. "I welcome scrutiny. I welcome an honest, objective investigation. I always have."-------