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RED BANK: PBA BLASTS McCONNELL’S ‘ETHICS’

PBA president Mike Zadlock, at table, addressing the council while the union’s executive committee members stood. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

[See CLARIFICATION below]

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topicRed Bank’s police union accused Chief Darren McConnell of “numerous inappropriate and questionable sexual relationships” with employees and other alleged ethical lapses Thursday night.

The allegations, aired during a council meeting, came a month after a previously undisclosed “no confidence” vote by Police Benevolent Local 39, and almost two weeks after McConnell had been expected to retire.

McConnell said the allegations were triggered by his recent marriage to a patrolwoman. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

PBA Local 39 president Mike Zadlock told the council that an “overwhelming number of members” had endorsed a no-confidence measure against McConnell at a “well-attended” special meeting July 10. The apparently “unprecedented” vote concerned McConnell in his roles both as chief and as interim borough business administrator, he said.

“McConnell has destroyed the morale of this once-proud and distinguished agency,” Zadlock said, as six members of the local’s executive board stood in the back row of the council chamber.

He said McConnell had failed to live up to department standards of conduct by engaging in unethical behavior, including “numerous inappropriate and questionable sexual relationships with PBA members” and others, whom he did not identify.

[CLARIFICATION: A closer listen to the recording, requested Friday by Zadlock, shows that Zadlock alleged sexual relationships “with PBA members’ significant others.”]

He also accused McConnell of favoritism, nepotism and “selective enforcement of department and borough policies,” which he said was “causing a problem in the workplace.”

Zadlock, a patrolman, said McConnell’s actions had prompted the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office to “look at how he handled internal affairs complaints regarding his current wife and subordinate, that resulted in the prosecutor’s office coming out with their directive, February 24th, 2023. That directive has not been distributed to our department but has been public to other agencies.”

McConnell and Patrolwoman Kristin Altimari were married in Florida in early July.

McConnell, 54, was to have retired at the end of July, but said recently that questions over his pension had postponed his departure.

But Zadlock said a complaint filed by the union with the New Jersey Attorney General over McConnell’s alleged actions had played a role in the delay, “not unspecified pension issues.”

“McConnell should be placed on administrative leave immediately and until further notice,” Zadlock said.

Afterward, Zadlock declined redbankgreen requests for documents and further comment.

McConnell told redbankgreen that “it’s fairly obvious” that the PBA committee is “not very happy that Officer Altimari and I got married. This all occurred literally right after that,” he said, referring to the union vote and complaint to the Attorney General.

McConnell said his retirement was being held up by both the complaint and other pension issues, and it was unclear when he would be able to do so. “You can’t retire with an open complaint” pending with the NJAG or MCPO, he said.

“As far as MCPO, I will defer to them if they want to comment on their investigation,” he said via text.

During the meeting, Altimari, who was hired in 2014, told redbankgreen that Zadlock’s allegations were “bullshit,” but could not be reached for further comment.

Zadlock told the council, which took office July 1, that the union had tried without success to raise its concerns with the prior council, which “failed to take any corrective action.”

He also referred to a June 14 PBA grievance hearing, without specifying the details, at which, he said, Mayor Billy Portman and council members “were informed that the police department’s morale was completely destroyed.”

The local, he said, had informed Portman by letter July 13 of the no-confidence vote, and sought to meet with the new governing body in a non-public executive session Thursday night.

“We planned to discuss the current department’s morale issues, deficiencies and workplace conditions,” he said. But after agreeing to the session, Portman said it should be postponed until the new police chief is appointed, Zadlock said.

Upon McConnell’s retirement, Captain Mike Frazee will become chief, Portman said July 27. On Thursday, the council authorized the borough clerk to advertise the open position of borough manager.

In June, McConnell told redbankgreen that he might be interested in seeking the Red Bank manager’s job if it was still open when he becomes eligible following a mandatory waiting period under state pension rules. Zadlock said the PBA “is adamantly opposed to any such appointment. Giving McConnell the entire executive power vested in that position – to appoint hire or promote whomever he chooses – causes a major conflict of interest.”

Portman did not address the substance of Zadlock’s allegations. But he has continued to praise McConnell and said he would like him to return as municipal manager, if possible.

Borough Attorney Greg Cannon said he had instructed the mayor and council not to comment because the allegations involved claims about borough employees.

Councilman David Cassidy, without answering Zadlock’s charges, said he had “utmost confidence in the professionalism” of the police department, “top to bottom…  inclusive of the fact that they wanted to come public to make something known.”

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