Residency Requirement Eased For Special Officers

Posted: October 20, 1991

Citing the need to attract and keep special police officers, the Burlington Township Council has loosened a residency requirement to allow special officers to move out of the township after they are hired.

"We're bringing in young men . . . when they're single, then they get married and move to Burlington City or Florence or Willingboro and we lose them," said Walter Corter, Burlington Township's director of public safety. ''Some have asked to stay (as special officers). The only thing preventing them was a township ordinance."

The ordinance, revised by the Township Council on Oct. 8, brings the residency requirement for the department's 11 special officers more closely in line with the one that governs its 34 full-time officers, who need not remain township residents to stay on the force, Corter said.

In New Jersey, there are two classifications of special police officers, all of whom work part-time or as volunteers.

One group can carry guns, write traffic summonses and make arrests when a full-time officer is with them. The other group can't do any of those things, but they do handle other police duties, such as crowd control.

Township officials say it is coincidental that the change comes at a time when the state Department of Personnel is investigating charges by a former township police officer that a currently employed full-time officer violated civil service rules by stating on his application that he lived in Burlington Township when he lived in Westampton.

William Jacoby, a former township police officer who left the department for a second time in 1989, in this case because of medical problems in the family, and subsequently applied to come back, filed a complaint with the state in May, after he was passed over for a spot on the force.

In the complaint, Jacoby charged that Patrolman Stephen Wenger lived in Westampton when he applied for a place on Burlington Township's civil service list.

Under police civil service rules, applicants must live in the township as of the closing date of the application to qualify for that township's resident eligible list.

Violations of the rule may result in removal from the list and therefore

from the position if the police department is governed by civil service guidelines, said Sandy Cooney, Department of Personnel spokesman.

The closing date that governed Wenger's application was Aug. 31, 1989, according to Department of Personnel documents.

Wenger had been a special officer in Burlington Township when, in May, he was hired as a full-time officer. Jacoby had applied for the same position.

"Since I have been deprived of a job in Burlington Township by what appears to be an illegal appointment . . . I intend to pursue this issue to the fullest extent of the law," Jacoby wrote in a May 16 letter to Burlington Township Mayor Joseph Foy.

Michael Sweeney, Wenger's attorney, said it was not proper to comment on pending personnel matters. Wenger could not be reached. Township officials said they would comment only after the matter is resolved.

Based on documents, including a deed and property tax records, supplied to the Department of Personnel by Jacoby, the department decided that Wenger did not live in Burlington Township at the time of application and should be removed from the civil service list unless he could prove the contrary. Through his attorney, Wenger has appealed that decision and has submitted documents to show that he did live in the township at the time, Cooney said.

The decision now rests with the department's Merit System Board, which was still collecting evidence last week and is not likely to reach a decision for several weeks, Cooney said. The Department of Personnel postponed Wenger's certification pending the merit board's decision.

In letters to the Department of Personnel, copies of which were provided to The Inquirer, Township Administrator Kevin McLernon asserted that the township's "review process was thorough and complete" with regard to Wenger's hiring.

"All standard background checks were conducted (on Wenger) by the Burlington Township Police Department during January and February of 1988," McLernon wrote in a July letter. (It is not clear when Wenger first applied for a full-time position.) ". . . It was the township's intention to hire Patrolman Wenger at that time." McLernon's letter explains that the delay in hiring Wenger resulted from a then-civil service physical test which since has been modified, and under which Wenger has since been deemed eligible.

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