Take It or Leave It

Madison Borough’s refusal to offer compensation commensurate with county standards leads to ongoing departures of officers and exposes the growing challenge of retaining employees

By Mitchell Krugel 

Photos by Ed Carattini Jr. 

Madness in Madison Borough reached confounding proportions in late June and sent a shock wave rolling through the law enforcement profession throughout New Jersey. Another Madison officer had resigned to move to another job, a job that could actually allow him to provide for his family.

This was the second defection from the department in a week, the third in the past three years and an alarming 10th in the past 10 years. The madness painted Facebook with a mural of public outcry. Comments intended to slap the town’s administration with another wake-up call and implore the Madison borough administrator and CEO to not hit the snooze button yet again.

Posted by Edward Leo II: Because of the gross negligence of the Borough Administrator, Mayor, and Council – another well trained, dedicated, and community-oriented officer is gone. It’s time for the town and residents to realize the irreparable damage that it not only causes for the department but the entire community.

Posted by Twin Wood Designs: Madison Police need support from their city council to get better pay. The reason Madison is such a great place to live is because of the cops that keep the citizens safe.

Posted by Top fan Anthony William: This is the same, tired story since “Team Codey/Burnett” began running the very wealthy Borough of Madison. Hopefully the Chief is brave enough to fight in lockstep with his officers to change this. Bravo to the PBA for shedding light on the negligence and disrespect these two men show the employees; especially their Police Officers!!

The latest officer to leave Madison in the rearview is Alex Cardeñas, who departed on June 27 after only a year on with the department. He was awarded employee of the month in April for his off-duty heroics rescuing an unconscious motorist trapped in an overturned vehicle on Route 287.

Cardeñas, the eighth officer to leave since 2017, was renowned as a friendly face in Madison’s Hispanic community. But apparently he looked at the road ahead and only saw abyss.

“It would take me 15 years or more just to reach top pay in Madison. And even with their top pay, it would be almost impossible to live there,” Cardeñas related. “And I was taken aback by how they perceive us as their cops in town. I would say very much that they don’t really understand or appreciate the things that Madison police officers do for their town and for people in the town.”

More and more departments are feeling the pain Madison is currently trying to endure. And understand. Most days, the officers go to work and maintain the exemplary standard residents expect for the taxes they are paying.

Most days, working in Madison or any of these agencies is not like being on the Titanic. But some days, it is.

“It’s kind of a ‘let’s hope we have a good day today’ kind of thing right now,” Madison Local 92 President Travis Daniel disclosed. “When somebody leaves, that takes time and effort. And it’s physically tiring to now train a brand-new person to get them up to standards. So this is our goal with the posts. To get people talking. We don’t want to see more guys leaving, so our PBA is fighting as much as we can. The guys know we have fought and fought, but it’s a waiting game now.”

Waiting to stay. Waiting to go. Waiting for an absolution that the town’s leaders say will never come.

Call to retention

The tapeworm plaguing Madison has reared its ugly head elsewhere. Atlantic City Local 24 State Delegate Matt Rogers has seen neighboring towns poach his fellow officers while they are still recruits in the academy.

And why not pursue candidates in a department where the officers speak more than 25 languages and represent nearly every ethnicity in New Jersey—and there are 18 steps to top pay? And Atlantic City certainly has its share of high-stress calls.

“You can’t blame them for leaving,” Rogers added. “You go work in one of these other towns, it’s going to be half the workload and half the stress.”

The ins and outs of why officers are going into and out of departments more and more have fingerprints all over Madison. Local 92 State Delegate Nelson Jimenez details that he and many of his members are having to work up to 600 hours of overtime and extra duty per year to make what an officer in Florham Park banks just with base pay.

As a result, Local 92 has been out of contract since the end of 2021. The town has been sitting on its 2 percent pay increase offer since then, which would not bring Madison near the compensation that can be had in most nearby Morris County agencies.

Florham Park, Chatham Borough and Chatham Township are among those neighboring towns and haven’t had a single resignation recently. Sergeant Bart Glab, president of the SOA, noted that he received badge number 145 when he came on 10 years ago. But the 29-person Madison PD is now up to badge number 168.

So do the math.

“We have another guy who is potentially going to leave as well. He applied for a state agency, and apparently, he’s just waiting for the state to OK the hire,” Jimenez informed. “We’ve had officers go on interviews who just haven’t gotten picked up yet. And officers just putting applications in anywhere, really. We can only tell them for so long to just wait and see how we make it on this contract. When an opportunity arises, you got to take it. I’ll be honest, I almost left in December of last year.”

Exit signs

After 18 months without a contract, Local 92 tried mediation to chip away at the 2-percent earplugs Borough Administrator Ray Codey appears to be wearing. It would be easy to believe that it’s the mayor and city council with deaf ears, but neither has flexed any negotiating power or even interest.

Local 92 even sent a three-page letter to Madison Mayor Robert Conley and the council on Feb. 27 detailing a multitude of reasons why salaries should be increased above and beyond 2 percent. The mayor responded that there will be no further correspondence from him or the council about negotiation.

“That’s sad, because in effect what they’re doing is they’re jeopardizing public safety and defunding police,” commented attorney Stuart Alterman, who is representing Local 92 in this matter. “They probably think that if one cop leaves, ‘We’ll get another cop to fill his shoes, and we will even have to pay him less money, so we’ll make out either way.’ But their thought process is freaking ridiculous.”

Alterman will argue why it’s flawed thinking when Local 92 goes to arbitration with the town on July 31. His case will start
with the most basic of the nine criteria that the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) promulgates and that have to be discussed when formulating a new contract and any proposals that are going into the new contract: the ability to pay.

“Madison has a significant ability to pay, and they don’t,” Alterman added.

Madison has its own electric utility, which contributes to it being one of the wealthier towns in the state. There is business growth occurring downtown. The average home value is $670,000. It is not a small town by Morris County standards.

NJ State PBA Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman spends more time than anybody looking at comparisons in salary and benefits between agencies, among other aspects of Local contracts. His analysis indicates that salaries for Madison officers are in the lower half of the county, and more than $20,000 less for top pay and patrol.

“They don’t argue that they can’t pay. They argue that, essentially, they don’t want to pay because they believe if they give raises to the police department, they have to give raises to all their employees,” Freeman expounded.

Madison has the means to lower the number of steps and increase top pay, which Freeman believes will stop the bleeding of officers from the department. He also points out that money saved by not dragging out contract negotiations or going to arbitration would fund a chunk of the increase Local 92 members need.

Retention deficit

This section is directed at the municipalities, towns, counties, etc. who need to navigate the increasingly adventurous challenge of recruiting and retaining a quality force. It’s your chance to learn from the madness in Madison about what happens if compensation in a department doesn’t measure up to what’s available in other towns and how that might lead to a parting of the Red Sea.

Clues filled the Feb. 27 letter Local 92 sent. The mission of the letter stated that “the men and women of the Madison Police
Department bring a greater value and provide a level of service which is greater and more significant than what is reflected in the Borough’s contract offers.”

Additionally, discovery in the letter included that better-compensated towns in the county such as Chatham Borough and Chatham Township have contracts with 10 steps to top pay. Morris Plains and Hanover Township have eight steps. Madison has experienced a 20 percent increase in call volume since 2021. And a patrol officer in Chatham Borough is compensated the same as a lieutenant in Madison.

“Listen, we are not trying to be the number one department,” noted Glab, who authored the letter. “We are trying to come up from 31 or wherever we are to at least get us in the 20s.”

Situations like these make members want to take business administrators, mayors and council members on a ride-along. But with Madison municipal leaders saying they are not interested in being taken for a ride, here’s a view from the front lines, courtesy of Local 92 Vice President Mike Clancy, who has been on for five years.

“It’s not like we’re going in there saying, ‘Hey, we provide X, Y and Z. We’re the best law enforcement agency in the state, in the country, and we want top dollar.’ We just want to be paid competitively so we can retain guys,” Clancy commented. “We don’t need to be supplementing our salaries and working 12, 15, 16 hours a day on our days off just to make sure we can make ends meet. The extra duty stuff, yeah, it’s great. But I shouldn’t have to work that just to be competitive with another agency.”

Reading between the lines, Jimenez emphasizes that in spite of all this, they are still posting departmental highs for the past five years in motor vehicle stops, tickets and other metrics. So he feels the mayor and the council should have responded with a more productive statement that would indicate a desire to discuss the data with the borough’s negotiating team.

“But what the mayor wrote was just literally like an FU,” he asserted. “That’s the way we took it, at least, because how can you not?”

Perhaps some parting words from Cardeñas can put exclamation points on how the madness in Madison is sending them to the exits.

“Just the fact that some of them say, ‘You guys don’t deserve any more money,’” he declared. “If you have to work so many overtime shifts when they have us standing outside for these crossing guards or town posts for five, six hours of the day, it takes its toll. It comes down to the quality of life.”

The center of retention

NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan looks at all the madness coming out of Madison and implores all towns to see the writing on the wall. From his 30 years of experience, he surmises that it is difficult to put a good estimate on what it costs to train an officer.

But it’s enough to risk losing that officer and the return on investment.

“I don’t know what these towns think sometimes and why they are penny-wise, pound-foolish,” Colligan explained. “Are they so tone-deaf or so egotistical that they think that there’s going to be a line of great candidates? And if they think there are, I say, ‘Yes, but do you want a qualified candidate or do you want Paul Blart, Mall Cop? I’m not saying that Madison should open up the books and write giant checks, but they need to realize that they’re not going to have a well-run agency until they decide to fix this.”

Atlantic City stands as a consummate case study in the recruiting/retention malaise that leads to a line out the door like in Madison. Rogers notes how daunting it is to face 18 steps to top pay (up from seven when he started, by the way). And then when you have a couple years of experience, you start to see the green grass.

“I don’t blame them. You work over half your career to get the top pay. It’d be one thing if it was some monster number,” Rogers stated. “But if you’re going to wait all these years just to get something where you’re still one of the midrange in the whole county, I would go to some small town, too, and work for more money with less stress.”

As he looks at what is happening across the state in labor relations, Freeman warns all agencies that they must understand the consequences of no retention to detail. If an officer who starts at 23 will not reach top pay until 38 years old, for example, that’s a little late to confirm you can support a family.

Retention would be served if an officer who wants to have a family can invest themselves into a community. It can’t be like
Madison, where even when officers reach top pay, they can’t afford to live there. Or like in the case of Madison, where the department is so young that officers can’t even afford to live within an hour’s drive of town. Add that time to a workday or one of the many overtime shifts, and it’s another reason they are making their way toward the exits.

On the flip side, when Alterman makes the case in the arbitration for Local 92 members to get paid, he says he will reference
several towns that improved their health benefits and improved the salaries to make them much more livable through the step guide and how that has realistically improved attracting and retaining police officers. He will show how every time an officer leaves a department, it costs approximately $30,000 in replacement.

And he will cite what might be the tipping point causing the madness in Madison.

“Today, I think there’s much more significant negative pressure coming internally that is creating extreme stress and anxiety, more so than what a cop faces out on the street,” Alterman emphasized. “That really does result in public safety being jeopardized.”

Exit poll

Here’s where it hits the fan. Jimenez praises how Chief John Miscia is supporting his officers in this ordeal. He wants to make moves to make the job better, including a vision of starting a community policing division, adding manpower to the detective bureau and designating personnel to be more proactive with an auto theft task force.

But the departures have left the department struggling to cover patrol and needing a big overtime load to stay safely staffed. Of course, there’s only so much of that members can take before burnout sets in and mental health takes a huge hit. Nobody wants to think about where that can lead.

“It gets to a point where it’s like, am I going to be working patrol for the next 15 years ?” Jimenez sighs. “And it’s time that we have to spend away from our families. Not everybody wants to come in on two, three, sometimes even four of their days off to make money because they got to provide for their families.”

He adds that camaraderie is taking a hit alongside morale.  FTOs feel like they are wasting six months when an officer who has been on a year or two leaves. And that’s on top of not knowing what you are going to get in replacement with the current state of hiring.

“It’s gotten bad in Madison, to the point where I started my sixth year in November, and since then we have hired 14 guys,” Jimenez lamented. “So when you have two good cops, you know they have great potential and you just lose them, it’s kind of like, ‘Man, this sucks.’”

If this doesn’t say it all, well, a few more social media posts should paint the picture of the madness of the Madison town leadership.

Posted by Wayne Reed: Wow nothing has changed in the land of OZ. All controlled by the man behind the Green curtain (Codey). You will never find a more Professional, Community Serving Department who cares about its citizens than the Madison Police Department. If I were a town resident I would be appalled that we were losing so many officers.

Posted by Donna Mattina: What a disgrace to have so many of our fine officers leave. Doesn’t seem right. What’s going on? Is it money? Aren’t residents of this “VERY DESIRABLE TOWN” and #1 place to live,” worth having a fully staffed police department with pay commensurate with other towns. The town certainly should have the money to retain and/or increase the salaries of our town employees!

Posted by Edward Leo II: This is a direct result of the elected officials playing “hardball” and wasting taxpayers’ dollars. This won’t be the end of people leaving, I have no doubt. The strain this will continue to put on our officers is going to eventually prove to be too much. The quality and longevity of officers will fall short. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.