JERSEY CITY - Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy's temporary police director appointee can stay in the position for 90 days without approval from the City Council, according to a legal opinion issued today by Jersey City's attorney.
Last week Healy appointed Deputy Police Chief Peter Nalbach as the temporary police director after the City Council failed to appoint Police Chief Tom Comey to the post on May 9. At a caucus meeting of the council on May 21, several members of the governing body questioned whether Healy had the legal authority under the Faulkner Act to appoint an interim police director without getting their approval.
Today, however, Jersey City Corporation Counsel William Matsikoudis issued a legal opinion that, "In the absence of a permanent director, the mayor has an inherent right and, arguably, an obligation, to make an interim appointment of a department director to assure that these statutory functions are legally performed. The narrow [interpretation of the law] advanced by some council members, which would limit the mayor to a single appointment of an acting director and would, in the even of an impasse, result in a vacancy in office."
This means Nalbach can continue to serve as both the deputy police chief and the police director for 90 days. Healy's permanent appointment for police director will need to be approved by the council.
In his opinion Matsikoudis did not address whether Nalbach can serve in a subordinate role to Comey as deputy police chief, while also serving as Comey's superior as police director. At least two members of the City Council questioned whether these dual posts constitute a conflict of interest.
Earlier this year Healy appointed Police Chief Comey to be the acting police director after the previous director, Sam Jefferson, retired in February.
Two weeks ago the Healy administration asked the City Council to make Comey the permanent police director. The appointment failed to be approved by a vote of 4 to 5 with council members David Donnely, Steven Fulop, Nidia Lopez, Rolando Lavarro Jr., and Viola Richardson voting against the appointment.
In voting against Comey's appointment the council members stated that it would be a conflict for a police chief to essentially report to himself as police director.
Since Nalbach now faces a similar conflict, it is unlikely these council members would support giving him the police directorship if he continues to serve as deputy police chief. - E. Assata Wright