With a new contract hanging in limbo, Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante gave the city council a four-choice ultimatum earlier this month, as emails provide a glimpse into some of the tensions that exist behind the scenes.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
HCV obtained emails between Ferrante, the city council, and a few others through an Open Public Records Act request.
” … It is unlawful when councilpersons seek to get involved in the day-to-day decision making of police departments, since this authority rests exclusively with the chief of police,” says an April 24th email from New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police counsel Vito Gagliardi, Jr. to a slew of Hoboken officials.
“For example, it would violate the Bill of Rights for a councilperson to direct the chief where to assign officers or what areas to patrol. It further is unlawful for a councilperson to issue directives to subordinate officers, such as demanding an officer allow them to use police department resources.”
The only two council members cc’ed on that email were 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher and 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, who sponsored an amended resolution at the July 8th council meeting that recommended extending Ferrante’s contract through 2021 instead of 2022.
A common topic of conversation throughout the emails is a reference to an April 20th Zoom committee meeting where officials discussed COVID-19 updates and plans, a regular occurrence throughout the current public health emergency.
Ferrante indicated that Ramos said on the call, which the chief was not a part of, that he should “get the f*** off of Twitter and get to work.”
However, in a July 13th email from Fisher to the chief, Mayor Ravi Bhalla, and a few others from City Hall, she shares her perspective about why she believes some things said were either fabricated or taken out of context.
“Chief Ferrante’s entire response relating to the ‘April 20th’ meeting seems to be based upon a conversation he had with [Acting Business Administrator] Jason [Freeman], one none of the council were privy to,” she wrote.
“But given our political climate, it would not surprise me if the goal was so that Chief Ferrante would be angry at the council and those on the call, in particular me, Ruben and Assemblywoman [Annette] Chaparro.”
She continued that this spurned a lengthy email from Ferrante “attacking” the three of them, as well as calling the aforementioned NJCPA communication as “a soft cease and desist letter” that would effectively prevent the council from engaging with the police department on issues important to their constituents.
As HCV previously reported, Ferrante sent an email to the entire council on July 2nd informing them that he was seeking a three-year contract extension (his most recent agreement with the city expired on December 31st, 2019).
Ferrante currently earns $201,075 annually and would receive a $5,000 raise next year, as well as 2022 – if the council agreed to it – according to a draft of the contract.
The police chief also said he did not take his contractually guaranteed 1.5 percent raise in 2019 and did not ask for a raise in 2020, either.
In a July 11th email to the council, mayor, business administrator, and corporation counsel, Ferrante appears to give them some clear cut choices prior to the next vote on his contract, taking umbrage with the council trying to coincide his employment with the mayor’s term – which is up next year.
“I give you 4 options as outlined below:
- Approve the contract as agreed upon in January 2020.
- Grant my contractually obligated raise from December 1st, 2019, retroactive, and I will sign the council amended contract as presented at the July 8th meeting.
- Collectively, decide on compensation that you feel is appropriate for me comparative to the salaries of other Hudson County chiefs and make a proposal.
- Let me know if you want to go in a different direction and I will certainly apply for my retirement and take my work product and reputation to another employer, public or private.”
Ferrante indicated that he wanted to hear an answer by this week.
While the administration tried to have the chief’s contract added to yesterday’s special meeting agenda, they did not submit the request within 48 hours of the meeting, a requirement to fulfill the Open Public Meetings Act.
This morning, Ferrante said that he will continue to perform his duties as chief as he waits to see if his contract will make the July 29th council agenda.
“I continue to do my work and run this department 24/7, while waiting to see if my contract will be on the July 29th agenda when it gets disclosed this Friday,” he wrote.
“I don’t understand how these strongly opposing sides can come together for topics like purchasing 50 million dollar parks, the Monarch, Union Dry Dock, etc …approve $531K in expenditures on consent agenda at the same meeting where they amend a contract which was agreed on back in January that has $0 financial impact in 2020.”
City spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri made it clear that the administration is doubling down on their request to give Ferrante a three-year contract, citing his substantial reduction in crime rates in almost all major categories, creating new deployments, and receiving no civil complaints for excessive force.
“The mayor categorically rejects the resolution introduced by Councilwoman Fisher at the last council meeting to reduce the chief’s contract from three years to two, with the Councilwoman stating on the record her wish to terminate the contract with the conclusion of the term of the mayor, despite voting with the council to extend the current fire chief’s contract through 2023,” he said.
“Mayor Bhalla believes this inappropriately politicizes the position of police chief, which should have no connection to elections or politics.”
In response, Fisher agreed that Ferrante has done a great job and went off on Chaudhuri, adamantly expressing that she never called for the police chief to be fired.
“What else is new: Vijay Chaudhuri lies to the public. Let me be very clear – I have never said I wanted to terminate Chief Ferrante’s contract. He is incredibly important to the city of Hoboken and I am appreciative of his leadership and all he has done for our city,” she said.
“It is wholly unacceptable that the city’s spokesperson in his official capacity continues to spread lies about Hoboken elected officials when they oppose the mayor’s position, and is clearly a conflict of interest given he is also paid by the mayor as his political consultant. If the mayor wants to attack elected officials, let him do it on his own time and his own dime, not the taxpayers’.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.