Thursday, September 18, 2014

COUNTY EXECUTIVE RACE: Anti-Donovan Facebook Page Gains Traction as Donovan's Power Struggle Intensifies

LAST UPDATED OCTOBER 14, 2014.  see end of article for explanation.

A Facebook group, "Women Voters Against the Reelection of Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan," continues to gain members as more Republicans come out against the strong arm tactics of a County Executive that many outspoken members of the group refer to as "egotistical," "power hungry," and "out of touch."  Tonight, the group crossed a milestone adding its 5,000th member in less than two months.  


The group was started by a group of independent women who are dedicated to the support of Bergen County's law enforcement officers.  They set out on a mission to bring truth and transparency to the voters of Bergen County after County Executive Donovan went to war with Sheriff Mike Saudino.  Donovan is against the Board of Chosen Freeholder's proposed (well, approved) merger of the Bergen County Police Department with the Sheriff's Department.

Donovan, who has a full-time escort from the Bergen County Police Department, vetoed the Freeholder Board's approval of the merger.  When the Freeholder Board overrode Donovan's veto, she filed a lawsuit (including unfounded claims of ethics violations by Freeholders Tanelli and Ganz) in protest (well, more of a stall tactic).  Her efforts continue to be dealt blow after blow in court [more to come on Donovan's waste of taxpayer funds on lawsuits, vetoes, and appeals in a follow up story]. 

To the insult (and quite frankly, danger) of every Bergen County Sheriff's Department Officer, Donovan has publicly taken the stance that "they're [Sheriff's Officers] not police officers."  Furthering her claims, and in an attempt to protest the Freeholders' claims that a merger could save $200 million over 20 years, Donovan told Mark Bonamo of, "There is no saving of money, because [if the merger took place] we will have to hire non-police people to do things that the police now do."

Sheriff Saudino believes that Donovan's repeated attempts to belittle Sheriff's Department Officers put his officers, and the public, at risk.  A letter sent to the County Executive by Sheriff Saudino last month requests that the County Executive immediately cease and desist from continuing to promulgate a false perception to the public that Sheriff's Officers are not Police Officers.  Saudino asserts that Donovan's "power struggle with the Board of Chosen Freeholders" continues to "put politics over public safety."  Saudino cites New Jersey law (NJSA 52:17B-67) which clearly states, "Police officer shall mean any employee of a law enforcement unit, including sheriff's officers...." Donovan has yet to respond to the letter, or offer an apology to the Bergen County Sheriff's Department for her comments.

Sheriff's Officers undergo the same training, and graduate from the same Police Academy, as your local police.  In fact, the Bergen County Sheriff's Department does routine patrol and traffic enforcement around county facilities.  Sheriff's Officers often partner with local law enforcement agencies for not only routine patrol and enforcement, but also special assignments and details.  For example, the Sheriff's Department and Hackensack Police Department have often partnered for the patrol of the City of Hackensack.  The Sheriff's Department also has a number of specialized units including Detectives, Criminal Investigation, Crime Scene Investigation, and the Fugitive Squad.

Though Donovan continues to battle the Board of Chosen Freeholders in her attempt to control the Bergen County Police Department, she does acknowledge that shared services are a positive.  She agrees that police departments should merge to save money.  Donovan told Bonamo, "I think police departments should merge, but you don't put a politician in charge of a quasi-military operation."

Though Donovan asserts that Saudino is a politician, many critics contend that Brian Higgins (the Bergen County Police Chief) has improperly interjected himself into the political process, becoming nothing more than a Donovan Pawn.  Higgins has come under fire for his improperly requesting that two Bergen County Police Officers interfere with a traffic stop of a Donovan ally, Freeholder Maura DeNicola.  Two Bergen County Sheriff's Officers stopped DeNicola and discovered that her vehicle registration had lapsed.  Higgins initially denied interfering, however, he later admitted to sending officers to the scene for the purposes of video taping the incident because of a "patter of harassment" by Sheriff's Officers.  The State PBA's judiciary committee conducted an investigation and Higgins faced a two year suspension from the PBA stemming from his involvement in the incident.  Higgins was ultimately not suspended, however, he was removed from the executive board of the Bergen County Police Chief's Association over increasing displeasure with his initiatives to take over local policing duties in municipalities. 

Don't you wish you could put a call out to your local Chief of Police in the middle of a traffic stop for assistance? Shame on you Freeholder DeNicola!

Donovan's bullying and strong arm tactics with the Sheriff's Department extend to such lows as interfering with the pay and benefits of the Sheriff's Departments' more than 400 officers.  Donovan has, for over three years, attempted to interfere with the Sheriff's Department 2011-2014 contract.  Despite the union settling their contract, Donovan has publicly announced she "refuses" to sign the contract.  She has filed unfair labor practice complaints, motions, lawsuits, and appeals, in an attempt to get a seat on the opposite side of the negotiation table from the Sheriff's Department Local 134.  She has lost every round with judges asserting that she has overstepped her bounds and proclaiming that the Sheriff, and Sheriff alone, has the right to negotiate a contract with his officers' collective bargaining unit.

Donovan also allegedly withheld the pay and benefits of six new hires to the Sheriff's Department by refusing to sign their request-for-personnel (M1) forms.  When the matter was pulled into the public spotlight, the forms were promptly signed (more than four weeks after the officers were hired).

Donovan has also interfered with operations of the Bergen County Sheriff's Department in her attempt to stop Sheriff Saudino from acquiring two Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP's) from a Federal program (at no cost to the taxpayer).  Despite Donovan's claims that the maintenance costs are prohibitive, and that there is no place for these military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County, she has not announced that she will be calling on the Bergen County Police Department to sell, or otherwise surrender, their two military style vehicles.

Now, I ask you, is there really a difference between these two vehicles? Is one more "ominous" than the other? Or does Kathleen Donovan just want to bully the Bergen County Sheriff's Department in her continued power struggle with the Board of Chosen Freeholders?


October 14, 2014 update:

On July 25, 2014 another periodical reported that Brian Higgins was suspended from the State PBA for a period of two years--"The State PBA conducted a hearing earlier this month and Higgins was notified in writing that he would be suspended for two years. Higgins will have an opportunity to appeal the decision if he chooses." On October 24, 2014 this article was edited by the Hackensack Scoop to correct that Brian Higgins was investigated by the State PBA and ultimately not suspended from membership.


  1. Thanks for shedding light on this issue. I cannot fathom how Donovan has managed to stay in power. I plan on joining the group and urge others to follow in suit.

  2. It is high time for a change at the Bergen County executive level. Donovan, it is time to go.