Fire Chief Loses Claim For $200k Comp Time Payout

Joseph Marini was the Fire Chief for the City of Camden, New Jersey. Marini worked under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) during his years in the department until 2000. At the end of 1999, before assuming duties as Acting Chief of the Department, Marini met with Preston Taylor, who was then the City’s business administrator. Marini testified Taylor told him that “with the exception of salary and wage, he should expect to receive all the benefits and entitlements accorded to the chief before” him.

Marini’s advancement to chief came at a time when the City’s acute financial distress was becoming obvious. In May 2000, the City came under the supervision of the Local Finance Board, following a judicial determination there had been a “gross failure” by the City to comply with the Local Budget Law and that the finances of the City were “substantially jeopardized.” The State eventually took over the finances of the City.

Under a financial manager, the City passed an ordinance that the “Fire Chief, Police Chief and Deputy Chiefs of both departments are not entitled to overtime.” The City also “divested” a number of managers of accrued comp time and a portion of their accrued vacation time. When Marini retired in 2009, his severance was reduced by $207,552.58 as a result of the City’s “divestiture.”

Marini sued, contending that based on the oral assurances he received from Taylor before Marini became chief, he was entitled to his full severance pay. A New Jersey appeals court disagreed, and upheld the City’s calculations.

The Court found that “there is no statute, ordinance, or contract that provides Marini with a comp time benefit. Marini’s reliance upon a draft of a personnel handbook to establish his right to comp time is misplaced. Marini’s compensation had to be established by ordinance, and any benefit not explicitly included in such an ordinance had to be authorized by statute or contract.

“Marini has acknowledged that the City had the power to adjust his comp time and to correct errors, even before the financial takeover of the City went into effect. The audit conducted at the chief operating officer’s directive and the corrective actions undertaken as a result plainly fall within the scope of the authority the Legislature delegated to him. Without the power to order revisions to comply with statutes, ordinances, and CBAs, the operating officer would be limited to the merely investigative task of identifying areas of fiscal mischief without the ability to rectify them. The Legislature clearly intended otherwise.”

Marini v. City of Camden, 2014 WL 4187480 (N.J. App. 2014).