Jail officers settle suit, return to work

Four Camden County corrections officers who sued the county freeholder board have ended their litigation in a confidential, out-of-court settlement and returned to their former jobs.

The officers were fired from the county jail in March 2008 after the county said they violated a residency requirement — a mandate that all county government workers live in Camden County. Officers Chris Davis, David Smith, and Adrian and Monica Cooley lived in Gloucester County.

Camden County officials agreed last month to suspend the residency requirement for 180 days, county spokesman James Rhodes said. He cited the downtrodden economy as a key reason.

Asked whether the officers’ litigation was also a consideration, Rhodes said “many circumstances informed the reconsideration of the policy.” He declined to elaborate.

The four jail officers had claimed in federal court that the freeholder board and Warden Eric Taylor unfairly targeted them because they spoke out against the residency policy and refused to “commit a fraud” by using a false in-county address. They said many other officers also lived outside Camden County but were not disciplined because they provided false addresses or had friendships with supervisors.

All four officers returned to their jobs in early February, said their attorney, Stuart Alterman. He added that the officers are satisfied with the outcome but are not at liberty to talk about the case.

“I think the outcome was reasonable,” Alterman said. “I think, at the end of the day, all sides were reasonable and realistic.”

He said he appreciated that the freeholders and their representatives came “to the table and (resolved) the matter on an amicable basis.” He said the parties reached the resolution in February.

But Alterman would not comment specifically on how the resolution was reached or on whether the guards received any back pay or other compensation from the county.

Rhodes confirmed that the case had been settled but said the terms of settlement are confidential.

Camden County had maintained a residency requirement for employees since the 1980s, though the rule has appeared in multiple versions, Rhodes said.

He said the suspension of the requirement will be reconsidered later in the year.

Residency requirements, which attempt to funnel local tax dollars into jobs for local people, are not uncommon for government workers. Gloucester County does not have a residency requirement, but Burlington County does.

Its spokesman, Ralph Shrom, said the county has waived the requirement in cases when it cannot attract qualified applicants from within county borders.

source: http://www.courierpostonline.com/article/20090327/NEWS01/903270362/1001/rss

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