Barnegat Settles With Suspended Police Chief
Barnegat Township has reached a settlement agreement with suspended Police Chief Arthur Drexler in which the administrative complaint against him will be expunged and his termination of employment will be a voluntary resignation and retirement in good standing.
According to a resolution adopted at last week’s township committee meeting, a dispute arose July 19 between the township and Drexler regarding the chief’s compensatory time records. Six days later, the township served Drexler with a preliminary notice of disciplinary action and suspended him with pay pending the outcome of an investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Drexler then entered, through counsel, pleas of not guilty to any administrative charges and demanded a local department hearing. The next day, the township lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office that Drexler had credited himself with compensatory time to which the township believed he was not entitled, according to terms of his contract.
On Aug. 5, the township committee voted to suspend Drexler without pay following a special closed session meeting.
The resolution said Drexler cooperated at all times with the county prosecutor’s office and provided a voluntary statement to investigators on Oct. 19. Less than two weeks later, the prosecutor’s office completed its investigation and issued a report concluding that “it does not appear that there is sufficient credible evidence to support the conclusion that Chief Drexler intentionally tried to deceive the township of compensatory hours.” Furthermore, the report said it “appears to be a question of contract interpretation between what the chief was entitled to and what the township committee thought he was entitled to.”
In light of its findings, the prosecutor “administratively closed” its investigation and remanded the matter back to the township for disposition. The committee did not reinstate Drexler and in November named Capt. Richard Dugan as acting chief.
On Dec. 5, Drexler notified the township that he intended to file suit, charging that the actions taken against him were unfounded. However, the township maintained that Drexler improperly credited himself with compensatory time and on Dec. 15, the town served Drexler with a second preliminary notice of disciplinary action, alleging there were additional department rules violations stemming from the original complaint filed against him in July. Drexler maintained his innocence and entered not guilty pleas to the administrative charges, and renewed his demand for a local departmental hearing.
The resolution said that on Jan. 5, a prehearing conference was convened before a township-appointed hearing officer to discuss pretrial discovery issues and the prospect of a settlement.
“Through their respective attorneys, Drexler and the township engaged in meaningful negotiations for the amicable resolution in this matter, and in the interests of avoiding costs and uncertainty associated with litigation, Drexler and the township desired to resolve their dispute,” the document said.
As a result of the settlement, Drexler was reinstated to his office as chief, retroactive to the date of suspension from duty without pay on Aug. 19, and until his effective retirement date, which was Feb 1. In addition, the township will withdraw and expunge all charges against the chief.
Drexler’s status was worded “as a voluntary separation from service in good standing and retirement in good standing.”
The settlement also requires the township to pay Drexler a total of $240,000. It includes $97,036.55 in gross retroactive pay from Aug. 19 to Feb. 1 and $142,963.45 in retroactive salary.
With the matter resolved, the committee’s next step will be to appoint Dugan as permanent chief. Mayor Albert Bille said such a vote could take place at the next meeting on Tuesday, March 7.
— Eric Englund