E’town seeks new officers, but agreements not in place

By Coleen Burnett

Eatontown — Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? That was the question at the July 24 Eatontown Borough Council meeting.

The query concerns the hiring of Class III officers to patrol the schools starting in September. No one has been hired yet, and the final shared services agreement between the Board of Education and the Eatontown Police Department (along with input from the borough council) hasn’t been given final approval yet, either. This begs the question — do you hire your personnel first, or do you wait until the final agreement is signed?

Class III officers are retired police officers or state troopers who are allowed to patrol schools while armed. Schools around New Jersey, including in surrounding municipalities, have been hiring them as a result of prominent school shootings.

Borough Administrator Cherron Rountree said action must be taken soon.

“Given the importance of this issue and given the particulars of this position, the hiring process is going to take a long time,” she said. Rountree told the council that she would like to start advertising for the positions, given that the hiring process involves such particulars as a background check, drug test, a physical exam and a psychological evaluation. The entire process could take several months.

Councilwoman Jasmine Story was in favor of signing off on the agreement first. Story, who serves as the police liaison on the governing body, said there are ways to shorten the hiring process once the agreement is in place. “The lawyer in me favors doing the agreement first. That’s just how I feel,” she said.

Councilman Al Baginsky felt the same way. “I would want to get the agreement done and then hire somebody and show the agreement,” he said. But he also acknowledged that humans live in a less than perfect world.

Rountree took partial blame for getting to this point. “I did not realize the extensive process it was going to take to get qualified candidates,” she said.

Councilwoman Tonya Rivera said the hirings and the approval of the agreement go hand in hand.

“The clearer we are, the kinder we are — to ourselves, to whoever we hire… I think this program depends on how well the shared services agreement is developed and how the shared services agreement reads helps to guide the process we are looking for.”

In the end, the council gave its blessings to begin advertising for the positions. It is unclear when the governing body will sign off on the shared services agreement, but it is expected to happen sometime in the near future.