The disclosure was made at Monday night’s Town Council meeting in front of a room packed with police officers, although the Council was cautioned by Township Attorney Michael Gannaio to not discuss specifics of the matter because it is under investigation. It came, however, with the revelation that the IT department has also failed to abide by the agreement of cooperation that was signed with Verona PBA Local 72 on November 7. That agreement was reached between the police and the town to resolve problems with Verona Police Department technology that went back six years.
It appears that the cooperation issue had something to do with an access code that was requested by the police but not turned over by the IT department. “What disturbed me,” said Councilman Kevin Ryan, “was that the ink was no sooner dry on the agreement than it happened.” Ryan noted that the agreement “validated 90%” of the concerns that the PBA raised in the initial complaint, which was made in July. Under the agreement, there is supposed to be a period of transition for all police IT functions to be turned over to the police, which could last well into next year. “I don’t know that it was made clear to the people involved that they were supposed to cooperate,” Ryan added. “I think it is paramount that the police are getting the cooperation they are entitled to while the transition period is in place.”
Councilman Frank Sapienza raised the prospect that the town will need to look into IT problems in other departments. “I’m not convinced that our investigation of IT is over,” he said. “I’m not convinced that the PBA is not the only problem. We need to look forward and make sure that everything is correct.”
Councilman Michael Nochimson asked Gannaio how the cooperation issue affects the town’s Office of Emergency Management. That office is run by Jeff Hayes, who is also also the head of the IT department. “When we have an incident we need coordination,” said Nochimson. “How are we supposed to be feel comfortable when we have a rift?” Gannaio said that the matter “borders on personnel and legal issues” and should be discussed in closed session. (Councilman Jay Sniatkowski was out sick, so the Council had to table discussion on the salary ordinances on the agenda.)
In the public comment portion of the meeting Al DeOld of 15 Howard Street repeated a question that he had made at the last Council meeting, when he asked whether the town knows what the legal costs of resolving the police IT matter were to date. Martin said no, and added that it would be reported on as part of next year’s budget. DeOld also asked how much of the IT department’s work has been shifted to police. Martin said that too would be discussed in next year’s budget but added, “if I had to guess, 15 to 20 percent.” The Verona Police Department is the largest department in Verona municipal government and a heavy user of technology to report and investigate crime, and process alleged criminals. Nochimson stated that he will refuse to fund an IT department in Verona in 2015. With the rising complexity of IT work, many private sector companies and government offices around the country have chosen to outsource this work.
Mike Passero of 9 Woodland Avenue noted that the person who leaked the initial PBA complaint to a newspaper had been called a coward at a previous Town Council meeting. “I want to meet that coward,” Passero said. “Without the leak to the paper, I as a taxpayer would not have known what has been going on for six years. What took six years for these police officers to get what they asked for?” Ryan noted that the Council had not been made aware of the problems until the complaint was filed, but said that since the complaint and the agreement were now public record, Passero could request copies of both. Passero, undaunted, turned to Martin and asked, “why didn’t you take it seriously six years ago?”