PBA pickets fundraiser for Lake Como mayor

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Lake Como Mayor Brian Wilton, confronted by PBA protestors on July 12. COURTESY OF NJCOPS MAGAZINE
RED BANK — Lake Como Mayor Brian Wilton, a candidate for Monmouth County freeholder, was confronted by protesters at his Wednesday, July 12 fundraiser in Red Bank. Pat Colligan, state president of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association [PBA], said that 30 demonstrators outside of The Downtown in Red Bank were there to focus attention on the disbanding of Lake Como’s police department last year, following a public referendum. The borough now pays for police coverage from neighboring Belmar. “I thought that we should make a presence and let people know that he did have options and he chose not to exercise them,” Mr. Colligan said of the decision, which cost eight union-represented police officers in Lake Como their jobs. Mayor Wilton later issued a response to the protests. “After hearing from voters, Lake Como decided to enter in a shared service agreement with Belmar’s police force and it improved both towns,” he said. “The taxpayers of Lake Como will save millions of dollars over the long-term and Belmar gained revenue for its town, all while improving service to the residents.” Mr. Wilton is running for freeholder alongside Democratic running-mate, Dr. Margie Donlon, of Ocean Township. According to the pair’s Facebook page, the July 12 fundraiser was held by “Labor Leaders,” Assemblyman Tom Giblin, Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, Wyatt Earp and Mike Ryan in support of Mayor Wilton. The event was paid for by Monmouth County Democrats, according to a photo posted on the page. Mr. Colligan, who was part of the negotiations between the PBA and the municipalities, asserted that the mayor had “responsible” alternatives to eliminating the borough’s police department. “We had come up with, what I call a more responsible plan, so nobody’s losing their jobs, especially someone who’s dedicated their lives and careers to Lake Como,” Mr. Colligan said, “and I won’t disagree that there were financial issues. It’s just that there was a way to do it where these people aren’t going to, literally, still be on the unemployment line a year later.” Mr. Colligan and other critics of the mayor expressed particular pique with the mayor’s use of the Lake Como police dissolution to tout his “fiscal responsibility” while claiming to be a pro-union candidate. “It’s unacceptable that he is now attempting to run for a higher office on a pro-union platform, when some of his own former officers are still out of work,” said Tony Pecelli, President of PBA Local 50, in a statement. Referring to the PBA’s several weeks of negotiation with Mayor Wilton and Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty last year, Mr. Colligan, said, “This thing was rushed, it wasn’t done with a lot of thought.” The PBA state president said, “The decision, I believe, was made before they even entered into negotiations with us. I said that to the two of them back then, and I still feel that way today — that this was a decision that was made long before they approached the PBA and told them what was going to happen.” According to Mr. Colligan, it is “impossible” for former officers to find positions at other departments and receive the same pay rate and rank they previously held. Mayor Wilton said: “We worked hard to try to get our officers new jobs and I personally made calls on their behalf. While this was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make, I am proud to have prevented an additional financial burden for Lake Como residents. However, I still support our law enforcement 100 percent. They are on the front-lines of our communities and they have my deep appreciation and respect.”

For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.