Bergen County Exec’s race: Donovan, Democratic freeholders attack over family ties to county police merger issue

HACKENSACK – On Wednesday, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan addressed an issue to the press that she did not tackle during her State of the County address: the proposed merger the Bergen County Police Department and the county’s Sheriff’s Office.

Donovan has struggled with the freeholder board over plans to merge the Bergen County Police Department and the county’s Sheriff’s Office. Donovan, a Republican, is opposed to the plan, while the majority of the freeholder board, now controlled by the Democrats by a 5-2 veto-proof margin, supports the move. The final decision depends on the outcome of ongoing legal battles related to the merger proposal. 

One of the Democratic freeholders, Jim Tedesco, is his party’s nominee to unseat Donovan in November. In an interview on Wednesday with PolitickerNJ.com, Tedesco challenged Donovan’s commitment to saving taxpayer money in Bergen after her failure to back the merger plan. 

“It’s bogus. I think police departments should merge, but you don’t put a politician in charge of a quasi-military operation,” Donovan said in response to Tedesco’s claims, adding that she felt the merger plan would not ultimately save significant funds. 

After putting forth policy positions about the county police merger plan, Donovan then got more personal.

“This plan was unveiled at [Bergen] Democrat headquarters. It was unveiled after Freeholder [David] Ganz’s family member got employed by the Sheriff’s department,” Donovan said. “Freeholder [Steve] Tanelli’s family member is employed by the Sheriff’s department. It’s purely political in nature.”

Ganz and Tanelli, both Democrats, fired back on Friday in the face of Donovan’s criticism. 

“The race for Bergen County Executive has commenced with incumbent Republican Kathleen Donovan deciding that my son be part of the collateral damage of her strange effort to seek reelection,” said Tanelli, whose son Dan is an investigator with the crime scene unit. “For whatever reason, Ms. Donovan has decided attacking the family members of elected officials is now fair political game, despite the fact my son was hired four years ago and three years before I assumed the office of freeholder. The reality is I sought legal opinion when I became a member last year and that opinion states no conflict of interest, something that Ms. Donovan already knew.”

“If the County Executive believes that my support for the reorganization of county law enforcement is in anyway affected by my daughter ,who has a college degree in criminal justice and was hired by the Sheriff as an intern and then as a clerk for $23,800 a year, she is further out of touch on this issue than I first realized,” Ganz said. “I have been advocating for this change since 2012. If Kathe had a concern, she could have simply picked up the phone and called me rather than exploit this situation and violate my daughter’s privacy. The fact that she continues to use my daughter Pam as a political prop shows the depths to which she will stoop to try and protect the county police. It is simply politics at its worst.”

Bergen County Exec’s race: Donovan, Democratic freeholders attack over family ties to county police merger issue