HAMMONTON - Hammonton Town Council brought formal charges against two suspended volunteer firefighters accused of harassment and violating the town’s code of conduct.

Town Solicitor Brian Howell recommended that council approve the measure and send the matter to an independent hearing officer during the Monday meeting at Town Hall.

Earlier this year six volunteer firefighters were being investigated with two subsequently cleared and reinstated in a special meeting of council on Oct 6.

Howell and Council said they would like to be thorough but act quickly as possible to resolve the issue.

“We are going to be fair and down the line as we can possibly be,” Howell said during the meeting. “This is the start of that process.”

“It is not our job to pick who is right or who is wrong,” Mayor Steve DiDonato said. “It’s our job to find out, research the facts, get all the documentation and then have a hearing. There are volunteers on both sides so it’s not like we are saying all volunteers make mistakes ... It’s a sad situation. It was brought to this level for us to address. The town could have lawsuits. It’s important. When you are a volunteer, you can’t cause harm to other volunteers.”

Although council and the solicitor agreed not to mention any names while the investigation is being conducted, council did express frustration in how the two volunteer fire companies treat each other. The mayor also said that the personnel of both companies will be undergoing hours of training dealing with their conduct.

“This isn’t something we asked for and certainly not something we asked to bring to council,” Deputy Mayor Tom Gribbin said. “But when it is brought to council it opens us up to liability.”

“We can’t look the other way,” Howell said. “It’s not responsible to the 15,000 residents of Hammonton to ignore something like this.”

He added: “There is an unhealthy relationship between the two companies. It is not healthy for the town and not healthy for the members of the department.”

In other business, Town Council approved of the mayor sending a letter to the other 22 mayors in Atlantic County to agree with the county’s proposed anti-poaching plan.

The county’s recommendation is for the municipalities to agree not to entice county businesses to move their businesses to other towns in Atlantic County. DiDonato complimented County Executive Dennis Levinson on the proposed plan.

“We need a regional approach and nothing says that we are all in this together then by agreeing that one town won’t steal another town’s jobs,” DiDonato said.

Town Council also:

• Announced that the 14th Street improvement project is expected to begin on Nov. 23

• Passed the first reading of an ordinance to authorize a five-year exemption and abatements for renovations of residential, commercial, industrial, and new construction of industrial and commercial properties.

The next scheduled monthly meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 14.

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