The Hightstown Borough Council voted 5-1 Monday evening to enter into a release and retirement agreement with Police Chief James Eufemia.
The council also voted 5-1 to release the following statement about the agreement:
“Chief James Eufemia today has announced his retirement from the Borough of Hightstown Police Department after 30 years of service. Chief Eufemia will retire effective September 1, 2011.
The Borough Council acknowledges the dedication and loyalty that the Chief has given the Borough of Hightstown throughout his career and expresses its appreciation for his service. Mayor Kirson and the Borough Council wish Chief Eufemia well in his retirement, and look forward to the next chapter in the leadership of the Hightstown Police Department.”
Democratic Councilwoman Isabel McGinty dissented on both votes.
"Now the council has decided which direction it is going on this, and there is no stopping that train, but the questions will remain because police issues are of paramount importance to this borough,” McGinty said before stepping down from her position as council president.
“I see it as very important that we address police issues,” she continued. “I expect in upcoming meetings that council is going to have to address police issues, and that we’re going to have to address police issues publicly, we’re going to have to answer questions from the public that we’ve put off for all this time.”
“Very respectfully, chief, I cannot vote in favor of this agreement,” McGinty added.
Under the agreement, Chief Eufemia, 55, will retire Sept. 1 and be entitled to the following:
- a 5-percent raise to his annual $114,193 salary, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011
- 17 months of pension time in the Police Fire Retirement System, funded by the borough, which still has not received the numbers on the cost of that time
- annual payments of $5,000 from 2012 to 2021, and ending if Eufemia dies during the course of them
- any remaining banked sick days and unused or accrued vacation days, which borough officials said cannot be calculated until the chief retires, and $6,851 longevity pay
As of June 8, the chief had 236 hours of sick time and 128 hours of vacation, but Chief Financial Officer George Lang had not yet calculated the cost of those because Chief Eufemia still has over two months left in which to use them, according to Borough Clerk Debra Sopronyi.
The agreement also states that it involves no admission of anything from the borough or the chief, and the chief waives his right to sue the borough.
After the agreement passed, councilmembers and residents alike thanked Chief Eufemia for his service to the borough.
"I've known the chief a good many years, and I wish you the best of luck in your retirement," said Democratic Councilman Larry Quattrone. "You've always been stand-up with me, you've always treated everything in a respectful manner and I always appreciated that."
"Thank you, Chief. You've been nothing but a pleasure to work with in all of my endeavors in Hightstown," said Republican Skye Gilmartin. "I wish you great adventures in the future, and your family as well."
Democratic Councilman Mike Vanderbeck thanked the chief for his help in the years Vanderbeck was managing his downtown business, now Da's Thai Cuisine and Slowdown Cafe. "I for one don't see a conspiracy of council, I think council's deliberated very seriously with this matter," he said. "I think council's looked at a career in its totality and it just shines."
Republican Councilwoman Selena Bibens, who was elected on a platform of keeping the Hightstown Police Department independent, also thanked the chief. "Any time there's been an issue, I've always felt very comfortable going to you," she said.
"Thirty years, I know that's a long stretch in any job, and I do wish you and your family a lot of happiness," Democratic Mayor Steve Kirson said. "Good luck."
The borough and the chief faced criticism in January when a state report listed Hightstown as one of the most gang-ridden communities statewide, with the most gang members in Mercer County and second to Trenton in the number of gangs countywide. Borough police provided the local numbers for the report.
In February, The chief originally said the report was inaccurate, but later stood by its findings when he and the borough both issued press releases, each critiquing the other’s response to the report.
In March, the New Jersey State Police and the authors of the report came to a council meeting to address local concerns. But borough officials said they were not satisfied by the chief’s silence on the source of the local numbers, and residents said they didn’t agree with the report and worried about the borough’s reputation.
Soon thereafter, the Borough Council held a special, closed meeting about the chief and then hired a labor attorney “to address police issues.” In April, the council voted 4-1 to dissolve its three-member Police Subcommittee, with McGinty, who was a member of it, again the lone dissenter. The report the committee put together for the council has still not been released to the public.
This article was updated at 9:55 am. June 8 with more information on the chief's salary and other benefits, and again at 4:33 p.m. with the chief's accrued sick and vacation hours.