Police chief Troy Oswald has filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court accusing mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration of retaliating against him for exposing hazardous working conditions at the Frank X. Graves Public Safety Complex.
Sayegh administration officials have delayed giving the chief a contract over a salary dispute. Oswald had been negotiating with the city since Feb. 2018. He sought a $240,000 base salary to reach parity with the fire chief.
The mayor has said he could not offer the chief more money. The chief’s salary is $229,000. Sayegh declined to comment on the lawsuit on Friday morning.
On Sept. 21, Oswald received a written contract from labor counsel Steven Glickman. Contract had $240,000 base salary retroactive to Jul. 1, 2018 with $5,000 annual increase through 2023.
On Sept. 24, Sayegh and others from his administration were taken on a tour of the Frank X. Graves Public Safety Complex by the chief.
Oswald pointed out the “numerous structural deficiencies and other severe problems in the headquarters affecting the health and safety of” employees, prisoners, and visitors. He showed the mayor a broken front door that could not lock, a ruptured sewer line causing damage to a cell block, one inch of standing rusty water in the boiler room, water leaks in the penthouse area in the upper floor of the building, and black mold all over the pistol range.
The mayor’s chief of staff Kathleen Long, who was on the tour, had an allergic reaction to the black mold and low-quality air while on tour of the men’s locker room, according to the lawsuit.
After the tour, Sayegh requested Oswald to start looking for another site to relocate the police headquarters. Oswald began looking at the old Board of Education building on Church Street and the U.S. Post Office on Ward Street.
On Sept. 26, Oswald received a second email from Glickman with a minor change to the contract that identified Oswald as the chief of police.
On Oct. 9, Oswald gave a presentation showing the “deplorable conditions” in the building to Passaic County freeholders Theodore “TJ” Best and Terry Duffy, according to the lawsuit.
On Oct. 11, Oswald and sergeant Todd Pearl met with the mayor, business administrator Vaughn McKoy, and Long to discuss moving police to the Post Office and a meeting with Rep. Bill Pascrell.
On Oct. 15, Oswald, Sayegh, McKoy, and Long met with Pascrell. The congressman suggested an engineering report be prepared documenting the unsafe and hazardous conditions at the public safety complex.
“I take these concerns seriously,” said Sayegh on Friday morning. His business administrator has a list of the issues and is working on addressing them, he said.
Sayegh declined to comment the accusation his administration is retaliating against the chief for exposing the unsafe and hazardous working conditions in the building.
During the building search process, Oswald inquired about his employment contract multiple times.
Police director Jerry Speziale had said in early October the contract was acceptable. He hadn’t gotten responses from administration officials on finalizing and signing the contract, according to the lawsuit.
Speziale did not respond to a call for comment on Friday.
On Oct. 24, Oswald was called to a meeting at City Hall with McKoy and Long.
McKoy told Oswald his predecessor William Fraher had worked his entire tenure without a contract. The chief told the business administrator lack of a contract was the reason the previous chief did not push the administration for “repairs and improvements” that could have halted the building from further deterioration.
McKoy abruptly ended the meeting. He told the chief there was no money in the budget for his salary increase.
Fire chief Brian McDermott had agreed to take a pay cut to bring both chiefs salaries to $240,000, according to municipal officials, which means the city would not have to allocate funds from the budget to boost Oswald’s pay.
The lawsuit states the Sayegh administration has refused to consummate the negotiated contract after the chief disclosed the “unsafe and hazardous workplace conditions” at the building.
Without a contract, the chief would receive lesser benefits than ex-chief Fraher on retirement, according to the lawsuit.
Oswald has considered retiring due to the contract impasse.
Oswald declined to comment on Friday.
Council members Luis Velez and Al Abdelaziz declined to comment citing pending litigation.
“It’s the first time I’m hearing this information. I’d have to look at it. I wouldn’t want to get myself into a quagmire,” said councilman William McKoy.
Councilman Michael Jackson said the mayor needs to work out a solution with the chief.
“Why are we trying to force someone out who has proven he is doing the job on a very high level?” remarked Jackson. “I have to acknowledge the job he’s been doing is unlike any other chief in the past. He is actively fighting against people committing crimes, police officers or not.”
Oswald is on the streets in jeans and t-shirt, said Jackson. He said past chiefs often put on their white shirts and drank coffee all day in their offices.
Jackson said the mayor should put together a plan for a new public safety building. He criticized the move to spend $1.8 million on a heating and cooling system for the building.
“That effort should go towards rebuilding the building,” said Jackson.
Oswald wants the city to sign the contract that was presented to him in Oct. He is also seeking attorney fees, according to the lawsuit filed on Thursday.