The Cranford Township Police Benevolent Association Local 52 has made an unfair labor practice complaint against the township on a claim that Police Chief Eric Mason violated the N.J. Employer-Employee Relations Act.
According to the charge, filed by Donald B. Ross Jr, of the Westfield firm Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, Mason violated the union and free speech rights of Sgt. Anthony J. Dobbins who had questioned department morale in an email to PBA members in November.
"It’s not even a formal complaint unless PERC (NJ Public Employment Relations Commission ) decides this has merit and can advance forward," said Interim Administrator Joseph Hartnett. "They can conceivably write back to the PBA and say it doesn’t meet the law."
On Wednesday, Hartnett said he sent the information to township attorney Daniel J. McCarthy and was waiting on word of how to proceed. "Mostly, in my career we’ve been able to work things out locally," Hartnett said.
In the Jan. 11, statement of charge (which is attached to this article as a PDF), the PBA says Dobbins was confronted by Mason for an email he wrote on Nov. 16, 2012. In the email, according to the document, Dobbins wrote "With morale at an all time low in our department I think we need to work hard in the union to acknowledge great works and share in social times as the holiday seasons are upon us."
Dobbins, a 25-year veteran of the Cranford PD had been honored at past events along with other police officers. According to the PBA statement, Mason questioned Dobbins reference to low morale on the force and allegedly tried to force him to recant his opinion in a new email.
The issue of police moral came up at various Committee Meetings when Dobbins father, Gerald, raised the issue during public comments. He even referenced a confrontation among police at a Nov. 27 public meeting.
"Part of the reason my son is being harassed all the time is because of what I say," the elder Dobbins told Patch in a phone call. "Somebody should do something about the morale."
Mason would not comment on the charges. "Any personnel related issues should be addressed to the Township Administrator, Joseph Hartnett," he told Patch in an email.
Calls to the attorney, Ross, and Cranford PBA President Steve D’Ambola were not returned.