The needler in the haystack.

Friday, June 12, 2015

(UPDATED) Taylor, Robinson-Briggs tag team constable question

Shirt, worn by a Plainfield constable at 2011's
National Night Out event, says "Police".
Such assertions drive real police crazy.

NOTE: There are important clarifications to the appointing of constables, see below, highlighted in yellow. -- Dan

Plainfield Councilor Gloria Taylor should be a little more careful before she lets former mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs lead her around by the nose.

It became clear from the discussion at Wednesday evening's agenda-setting session that NO ONE had done any homework on the proposed "discussion" item.

After launching the topic, Councilor Taylor tagged Robinson-Briggs to get in the ring and show her chops.

Robinson-Briggs pleaded for the reinstatement of a constable whose term has expired.

Questioning by Councilor Rebecca Williams revolved around the statutory requirement for monthly reports -- else the office is deemed vacant and the person who was in it ineligible to function as a constable.

Robinson-Briggs said they were filed. Public Safety Director Riley said he knows nothing of them.

The statutes governing constables are found in NJSA 40A:9-120 et seq. and here are some of the salient points covered --

  • Appointment: By resolution of the governing body, a minimum of two, up to 30 (see here); UNDER PLAINFIELD'S CHARTER, THE APPOINTING AUTHORITY IS THE MAYOR.

  • Term of office: Three years by default, or one year if governing body so specifies (see here):

  • Annual charges: Fee payable by the constable to the municipality, a max of $50 annually (see here);

  • Vacancies: How vacancies are handled (see here);

  • Constable's bond:  Before assuming office, the constable must give a bond in the form and amount prescribed by the governing body's resolution (see here). Such bond helps protect the municipality against misfeasance or malfeasance by the constable;

  • Constable's reports:  Reports must be made monthly, the statute says "[filed] with the governing body" ; missing two consecutive reports without cause will make the office vacant and the constable ineligible to exercise that authority. What must be in the reports is detailed (see here);

  • Action for monies payable to or by contables: The Superior Court has jurisdiction (see here).
Constables do not appear to be employees of the municipality. It seems, rather, that they are what would be deemed "independent contractors" for tax purposes and make their incomes from the service of judgments, summonses, subpoenaes, eviction notices, etc.

So, what we have in the constable question is a much more complicated picture than Robinson-Briggs evidently led Taylor to believe.

It is perfectly within the prerogatives of the City Council to agree to the appointment of constables, as was done -- in a lukewarm fashion -- under Robinson-Briggs, upon her nomination of three candidates.

As appointed under Robinson-Briggs in 2011, with Dan Williamson as City Administrator, the three constables were to report to the governing body, as required by the statute. So, let the City Council show proof that the reports were properly filed, that the statutory fee was collected from the constables, and the bonds were posted in the amount and form the resolution specified.

Further, at that time (2011), the Legislature was considering making graduation from the county police academy a prerequisite. If that became law, the requirement would have to be addressed.

Lastly, why would the Council want to subject the City of Plainfield to the liability of having Lone Ranger constables on the loose, without proper supervision? And who that would be would have to be specified in the resolution.

There's a lot more for the Council to ponder in the matter of constables than Robinson-Briggs led Councilor Taylor and the public to believe.

Starting with doing some homework.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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