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Norcross files suit against Gov. Murphy challenging the legitimacy of EDA Incentive Task Force

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In the latest move in the ever-increasing battle between Gov. Phil Murphy and South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, the team of lawyers representing Norcross’ interests field a lawsuit Tuesday, challenging the legality of the state’s Task Force on EDA Incentives.

The lawsuit, filed in Mercer County Superior Court, represents South Jersey political power broker George Norcross, his interests and his brother, Phillip Norcross.

In the lawsuit, the team of lawyers claims that the governor’s task force is operating unlawfully, with unauthorized powers, and that it is soliciting counsel from a New York lawyer, Jim Walden, who they say is not licensed to practice in New Jersey.

“Governor Murphy unlawfully empowered the Task Force with powers he did not possess and authorized the retention and payment of New York lawyers who proceeded to commence and conduct an investigation in violation of multiple provisions of New Jersey law,” the lawsuit said.

In the suit, the team of lawyers denied any accusations of misconduct when Camden companies tied to George Norcross applied for tax EDA credits. Those accusations were raised at a task force earlier this month.

In the May 3 hearing, the task force alleged that Cooper University Health Care, Conner Strong & Buckelew, NFI and The Michaels Company applied for tax incentives that they may not have properly qualified for, or falsified information in order to qualify for, the Grow New Jersey incentives.

In the lawsuit, the lawyers said the companies with ties to Norcross have followed the rules and qualify for tax incentives.

“Several of the plaintiffs in this action (Cooper, Conner Strong, NFI, and Michaels) submitted applications to participate in Grow NJ in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations,” the lawsuit said.

“Three of those entities (Conner Strong, NFI, and Michaels) have not received a single dollar in tax incentives, while all have made important contributions to the Camden community. Specifically, upon transfer of their operations to Camden within the next ninety days, Conner Strong, NFI, and Michaels will exceed by 10-15% the number of jobs they promised and certified would be created, and they have paid more than $1.5 million in fees to the EDA.

“And Cooper has already created more than 500 jobs — approximately 150 more than anticipated — and invested millions of dollars in Camden’s revitalization.”

Walden addressed the suit in a statement released late in the day.

“As we’ve contended for some time, we welcome the opportunity to defend the Governor’s powers to establish this Task Force to bring full transparency to the management of the EDA and award decisions that resulted in billions of dollars in tax incentives to companies across the state,” the statement said.

“We are fully confident that we are acting within the bounds of the constitution and the laws of the State of New Jersey. As everyone is now well aware, we have invited all of these companies to provide fact witnesses at the next hearing. Rather than responding to that offer they have filed an unfounded lawsuit against the task force instead.

“The public can judge this tactic for what it is.”

The lawsuit is the latest step in the battle over incentives.

On May 6, Norcross’ lawyers sent a letter to Walden and task force chair Ron Chen, saying the companies accused of improprieites were not offered an opportunity to respond to accusations in the task force hearings.

Walden issued a written response days later that week. It was not made public, but it was included in exhibit attached to the lawsuit.

In that written response, Walden told Norcross’ lawyers that they are welcome to challenge the legitimacy of the task force.

“Feel free to file a challenge to Executive Order No. 52,” Walden said in his written response. “We are certainly prepared to defend it.”

Walden also offered the Norcross brothers and others tied to them to appear and provide five minutes of testimony at the May 23rd hearing — which was not, according to Walden, going to focus on the Camden companies.

“Your letter of May 6th is hardly cooperation, and, at bottom, you have produced not a single document — before or after the hearing — supporting any conclusions or assertions that your clients’ out-of-state locations were bona fide, suitable, and available,” Walden said.

“We await word from you on when you will voluntarily produce the documents we requested, assuming it is still your clients’ intention to do so.”

He then asked Norcross lawyers to confirm, by May 23, whether the following individuals will voluntarily provide sworn testimony:

· Conner Strong & Buckelew officials George E. Norcross, John Muscella, Matthew Tiagwad

· NFI officials Troy Adams, Jeffrey Brown, Sidney Brown, Scott Brucker, Michael Landsburg, Steven Grabell

· Michaels Organization officials Michael Levitt, Joseph Purcell

· Cooper Health System officials Andrew Bush, Adrienne Kirby, Douglas Shirley,

· Parker McCay officials Philip Norcross, Kevin Sheehan”

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28 Festivals at the Jersey Shore This Summer

All illustrations by Steven Salerno

May 26-June 14: The 30th annual celebration features an a cappella group, symphony orchestras, chamber singers, a brass band, a tribute to Cape May pianist George Mesterhazy and a champagne jazz brunch. Times, prices and locations vary.

Aug 16-18: The Asbury Park-based surf-music record label Hi-Tide hosts daytime activities and nighttime concerts at Asbury Lanes. Cool off at the Asbury Hotel pool party, sip cocktails during the rooftop happy hour, and show off your moves in the twist contest. Bands include Los Freneticos, the Delstroyers and Asbury Park’s own Black Flamingos. $30-$55.

Aug 24: Tunes from live musicians fill the salt air. Food, craft vendors and spectacular fireworks add to the fun. 1-9 pm; free. Great Lawn, Long Branch Boardwalk.

July 12: 9 am-2 pm; free. Wildwood Crest Beach at Heather Road (609-523-0202).

July 17: 8 am; free. Rain date July 18. 18th Avenue Beach, Belmar.

June 8: Tap into fun with more than 30 breweries. Watch live brewing and try hatchet throwing. Session 1: noon-4 pm; session 2: 6-10 pm; $40-$45; designated driver, $5. Fox Park.

June 22: Blues, brews and barbecue! What better way to enjoy summer? 10 am-6 pm. Emlen Physick Estate (609-884-5404).

June 15-16: Get your fill of fish and vino at this inaugural fest. A live band and a deejay keep crowds grooving. Families can play cornhole, Kan Jam, Jenga and Connect Four. Sat, 2-10 pm; Sun, noon-6 pm. Byrne Plaza.

Aug 1-4: Bring your appetite to the 25th annual bivalve bash. You’ll find succulent seafood, landlubber options, clam-shucking contests and more at Huddy Park.

Aug 31-Sept 1: This Labor Day-weekend shellfish soiree promises live entertainment, 150 craft vendors, 25 food vendors and children’s activities. Sat, 11 am-8 pm; Sun, 11 am-6 pm. Along Ocean Avenue.

June 6: Traipse through historic homes and buildings. 10 am-3 pm; $35-$40. (732-449-0772)

June 15: Admire four private waterfront abodes. 11 am-3 pm; $30.

Aug 9: Step inside historic residences, a tent home and an inn. 10:30 am-4:30 pm; $35-$40. (732-774-1869)

July 31 6 pm; rain date Aug 1. Procession starts at the Wildwoods Convention Center.

Aug 8 10:30 am. Procession starts at 6th Street and the boardwalk.

June 8-9: Chow down as live music plays and cocktails and craft beer flow. Cash only in bar areas. Brighton Park.

June 28-30: Great grub, plus craft vendors and live music. Fri & Sat, noon-9 pm; Sun, noon-7 pm. Kix McNutley’s.

June 6-9: Named in honor of Old Barney, Long Beach Island’s 11th annual cinema celebration features screenings, panel discussions and filmmaker meet-and-greets. Times, prices and locations vary.

July 20: Watch 80 super-short films (less than two minutes) from local and international filmmakers under the stars at the Atlantic Highlands Marina. 6 pm, live bands; 9 pm screenings; Free. 1 Simon Lake Drive.

June 29: Learn to limbo and hula, discover shells and sea creatures during the Beach Walk, jam out to live music, take sand-sculpting lessons and enter the volleyball tournament. Eat your fill of fare and chill out in the beer-and-margarita garden before the bonfire and family movie at dusk. 8 am-10 pm; no beach tags required, activity prices vary.

June 29: Have a fintastic time with fellow merpeople. Browse vendors selling mermaid art and accessories. 2 pm; $10 to enter costume contest. Bradley Park.

June 17-20: Mibsters (marble shooters) ages 8-14 knuckle down (literally) for 1,200 games over four days. Who will be crowned the new Marble King and Queen? 8 am-noon, daily; free for spectators. Wildwood’s Ringer Stadium at Wildwood Avenue and the beach.

July 4: A food festival, craft sale and street fair all in one. Enjoy all-day live music, kids’ entertainment and a master sand-sculpting exhibit. Of course, Independence Day isn’t complete without patriotic pyrotechnics. 10 am-10 pm. Long Branch.

July 12-14: Two festivals mean twice the fun in North Wildwood. National meat masters face off while blues artists play. The weekend includes a craft beer garden, cooking classes and a vendor market. Olde New Jersey Ave.

Aug 30-Sept 2: Be amazed by aviation aerobatics, learn about historic aircraft, fill up on food- truck fare, and quench your thirst in the beer garden at Naval Air Station Wildwood. $12-$16. Cape May Airport.

Aug 3: Crack open a crustacean and a cold one on the Emlen Physick Estate grounds. Live music, an old-fashioned Victorian circus with jugglers and acrobats, and craft vendors add to the fun. 10 am-6 pm. Cape May.

July 12-14: Sample meat-free bites, hear from speakers, attend the fashion show and watch cooking demos. The keynote speaker will be Red Bank-bred Harley Quinn Smith, a singer, actress and vegan advocate. $8-$20. Showboat Hotel.

July 13: Decorated boats coast down Great Egg Harbor Bay along the parade route from the Ocean City-Longport Bridge to Tennessee Avenue. Bayfront homes dress up for the affair, too. Spectators line the waterfront and a fireworks display closes the festivities. 5:30 pm.

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NJIT renames College of Architecture and Design for Hilliers, icons in profession

New Jersey Institute of Technology announced Tuesday it is renaming its College of Architecture and Design for renowned architects J. Robert and Barbara A. Hillier, in recognition of a gift from the Hilliers that represents the largest donation in NJIT’s history.

The gift will provide support for student scholarships, faculty development, state-of-the-art technology, physical space improvements, high-impact educational experiences and curricular innovation.

The J. Robert and Barbara A. Hillier College of Architecture and Design at NJIT was formally announced on campus following NJIT’s undergraduate commencement ceremony at the Prudential Center in Newark.

“The Hilliers are icons in the world of architecture, and we are incredibly proud to have this school carry their name,” NJIT President Joel S. Bloom said.

“Their involvement with and support of NJIT have been extensive and incredibly valuable over the course of many years, and this gift will have a transformative effect on our students, faculty and research within the areas of architecture and design.”

During the 1990s, the Hilliers’ firm designed the architecture school at NJIT that will now bear the Hillier name. The project incorporated open and closed studios; an exhibition and conference gallery; high head-room space for construction, structural and materials testing; and long views of Newark and Manhattan.

Illuminated at all hours to allow students to work around the clock, the building is referred to as “the lantern on the hill.” It won the firm a New Jersey Chapter Design Award from the American Institute of Architects.

NJIT President Joel Bloom alongside J. Robert and Barbara A. Hillier, center.

“NJIT is very forward-thinking in everything that it does. I believe that architecture needs to look forward as a profession, more today than ever before. This inspired us to think that NJIT would be a good place to support the future of architecture,” J. Robert Hillier said.

“Our hope is that this support will improve access to architectural education and advance architectural research at NJIT, which is a major research university. This gift really matters to NJIT, and that means a lot to Barbara and me.”

Barbara Hillier agreed.

“I think the leadership at NJIT is very special,” she said. “They have been looking for ways to enhance the programs they have, not just in architecture, but in other disciplines as well. And they really embrace all of their students and provide them with a very strong education from which to launch their careers.”

The Hilliers, both architects, are co-founders and principals of Studio Hillier LLC, located in Princeton. Their precedent firm, Hillier Architecture, was the third-largest strictly architectural firm in the country and was identified by the magazine Architectural Record as one of the best-managed firms in the U.S.

Their interdisciplinary design firm counts hospitals, corporate headquarters, universities, independent schools, arts centers and museums, and residential properties among its many projects around the world. The Hilliers have received more than 300 state, national and international design awards for their commitment to “place, sustainability and the built environment,” while also offering expertise in master planning, urban land use strategy and historic preservation.

Among their many notable commissions are the 5 million-square-foot Sprint world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas, the Sydney Harbour Casino in Australia, the Las Colinas Convention Center in Irving, Texas, and the World Headquarters for GlaxoSmithKline in London. The firm was also the executive architect and interior designer for the Louis Vuitton Tower on 57th Street in Manhattan. Their historical restoration work includes the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington and the Virginia State Capitol.

In the educational arena, the Hilliers have worked for over 100 colleges and universities, including Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Columbia and Brown of the Ivy League, as well as Duke, Howard, Penn State, Mount Holyoke and Bryant University, where they designed the original Tupper Campus.

Their firm has designed 17 private international schools and has done several buildings on the campuses of the Peddie School and the Lawrenceville School. In their hometown, they were responsible for the design of the Princeton Medical Center in association with HOK and the Princeton Public Library, one of approximately 40 libraries they have designed across the country.

Like his late father, James Hillier, the director of research for RCA, who developed the first working electron microscope as a graduate student, J. Robert Hillier is a recipient of an honorary degree from NJIT. He also received the NJIT President’s Medal for Lifetime Achievement in 2009 and the AIA’s Michael Graves Lifetime Achievement Medal in 2007. He was named New Jersey’s Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine in 1989.

As a member of the core faculty at Princeton University’s School of Architecture, J. Robert Hillier has lectured extensively throughout the United States at schools of architecture and to AIA chapters. He is a member of the board of overseers of the Foundation at NJIT and has served on the board of visitors of the university’s Albert Dorman Honors College since 1996, when he was its first chairman.

Barbara Hillier has received many honors for her architectural work, including numerous AIA awards and the distinguished Chicago Athenaeum American Prize for Architecture. She has lectured and served on design juries at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University and Temple University, among other academic institutions. Her work has been featured in such prestigious publications as the New York Times, Architecture + Design and Metropolis.

The College of Architecture and Design at NJIT was established as the New Jersey School of Architecture in 1973, in response to an AIA National Advisory Committee recommendation to build a public school of architecture in Newark, and with approval from the New Jersey State Board of Higher Education.

The college was granted accreditation in 1978 and has since expanded its academic and research offerings with undergraduate degree programs in architecture, interior design, digital design and industrial design, and graduate-level programs in architecture and infrastructure planning. It continues to play an integral role in architectural and design education in New Jersey and the region.

NJIT Provost and Senior Executive Vice President Fadi P. Deek said the gift will have great impact.

“The Hilliers’ generosity will have a lasting impact on the quality of architecture and design education at NJIT for future researchers, practitioners and leaders,” he said. “Their gift will allow us to further invest in people, faculty and students, while also promoting innovative programs and research.”

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Newark is 1st city to get Opportunity Zone grant aimed at socially responsible investment

Newark has been awarded a grant of nearly $1 million from the Rockefeller Foundation and Prudential Financial as part of an initiative to help U.S. cities attract responsible private investment in economically distressed communities through Opportunity Zones.

The initiative is part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s U.S. Jobs and Economic Opportunity program focused on expanding economic opportunity for low-income Americans through policy, partnership and place-based transformation.

The foundation said the initiative aims to make it easier for cities to attract and responsibly deploy some of the more than $6 trillion of unrealized capital gains that could qualify for investment in Opportunity Zones.

The grant, the first of six the Rockefeller Foundation plans to announce, will total $920,000. It will be administered through the Newark Alliance.

In addition to funding a chief opportunity officer position and two community engagement specialists, each city also will receive two years of support in the form of a national Opportunity Zone Technical Assistance team to compile and leverage local, state and federal incentives, and help structure and support deals.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was thrilled the city received the grant.

“The only way to make sure the ‘opportunity’ in Opportunity Zones benefits all Newark residents is to intentionally focus resources to ensure it happens,” he said in a release. “I am so pleased that, through the support of our longtime partner in progress, Prudential, Newark was able to be the first city in the Rockefeller Foundation initiative.”

Lata Reddy, Prudential’s senior vice president of diversity, inclusion and impact, said the program embodies what Prudential believes in.

“Prudential is committed to maximizing the potential impact of the Opportunity Zone program to spur catalytic investments in our hometown of Newark,” she said. “By providing capital, as well as our expertise from our other Newark redevelopment and Opportunity Zone projects, we will help close the gap between inequality and opportunity as the city grows.

“Our partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation is a crucial step toward ensuring that inclusive, responsible investment benefits all Newark residents and communities.”

Rajiv J. Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said his group sees the enormous potential the Opportunity Zone program brings.

“Opportunity Zones have the potential to unlock billions of dollars in innovative job creation and community infrastructure private investment in cities, lifting up Americans who most need this support and preventing their displacement by irresponsible development,” he said.

“Philanthropy has an important role to play in ensuring opportunity zones improve the lives of the residents in distressed communities. Starting with Newark, the Rockefeller Foundation will help empower communities to attract and implement investments that will provide real economic mobility to the greatest numbers of disadvantaged people.”

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Historic Home, Once a Hub of Black Activism, Reopens in Red Bank

New apartments peek out behind Maple Hall. Courtesy of Tyler Osborn

In the first decade of the 20th century, a stately house with a mansard roof on the west side of Red Bank was a gathering place for African-American intellectuals and activists working to secure the rights their nation denied them.

“This was the hub,” says Walter Greason, a Monmouth University professor and the president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation. The foundation oversees the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, which officially opens May 23 in the meticulously rehabilitated house. “This was the vision of what [Fortune] thought was possible in terms of racial equality in this country.”

Timothy Thomas Fortune was born into slavery in Florida in 1856 and rose to become the influential editor of the New York Age, the leading black newspaper of its time, and the founder of the National Afro-American League. “Before there was the NAACP or the Niagara Movement, there was Fortune,” says board vice president Gilda Rogers, referring to the civil rights organizations that followed Fortune’s group. “He’s been called the bridge to the modern-day civil rights movement.”

Fortune lived for 10 years in the Red Bank home he called Maple Hall. Despite the efforts of a small group of preservationists, the house was on the verge of demolition in 2016 when local developer Roger Mumford came forward with a plan. He would build a 31-unit apartment building (with Mansard roof) at the rear of the 1-acre lot, and restore Maple Hall at the front. “What I try to do,” says Mumford, “is find economic solutions to things that I believe in.” He would not disclose the cost of the restoration.

Fortune was a close associate of many prominent African-Americans of his era, including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells and Marcus Garvey. Fortune’s “core message,” says Greason, was a belief that “African-Americans can stand on their own feet and create their own independent institutions if not obstructed by racist violence, terrorism and policies.”

The new cultural center is intended as a venue for discussion and advocacy—much as it was in Fortune’s time. Says Rogers, “We want to be able to bring some of that kind of energy there again.”

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Fatal Crash On I-80 In Wayne Tuesday Morning: State Police

WAYNE, NJ — Authorities have released the identity of the person killed in a Route 80 crash early Tuesday morning.

The victim was identified as Christian More-Rodas, 42, of Staten Island, New York, said New Jersey State Police Trooper Lawrence Peele.

More-Rodas was killed after a Ford pickup hit him just after 5:30 a.m. while he was standing outside of his vehicle, which was parked on the shoulder near exit 53 on the westbound side of the highway, Peele said.

Authorities were not sure why More-Rodas was standing outside of the vehicle or if he was in right-hand lane of I-80 or on the shoulder, Peele said.

The driver of the pickup was not injured. The State Police Fatal Accident Unit went to the scene and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office was notified of the fatality.

Multiple lanes were closed as a result of the crash, Sgt. Jeff Flynn said.

Email: daniel.hubbard@patch.com

Can Jersey Keep Its Top STEM Students?

STEM Scholar Anna Prilutsky networks with Kevin Campos, an associate VP at Merck, at the STEM Scholars Industry Conference in February at NJIT. Courtesy of The Research & Development Council of New Jersey

Can New Jersey retain its best and brightest? That’s the essential issue addressed by the Governor’s STEM Scholars, a 5-year-old program focused on inspiring students in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math—and helping them recognize the opportunities for talented and innovative STEM graduates in New Jersey.

A public-private partnership among the Office of the Governor, the Department of Education, the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, the Research & Development Council of New Jersey and private industries, the program identifies top STEM talent and introduces those students to the state’s vast STEM economy. The goal is to retain that talent in the state.

“Developing, mentoring and retaining STEM talent” is a top priority for the Research & Development Council, says council executive director Kim Case. “The Governor’s STEM Scholars program, the penultimate point of the STEM pipeline, fulfills this role.”

The first step is to spread the word about the program to eligible New Jersey students—particularly those in underserved communities. “According to the National Skills Coalition, between 2017 and 2027, the number of STEM jobs will grow by 9 percent in New Jersey,” says Rebecca Lubot, the Governor’s STEM Scholars program director for the council. “These jobs,” she continues, “require scholars to start developing specific skill sets. The STEM Scholars program is working to solve this issue by making the thought leaders of tomorrow aware of career opportunities in government, academia and industry.”

Students in grade 10 through doctoral candidates, who have a 3.5 GPA or above, can apply at govstemscholars.com by June 15 to be considered for the following academic year. Students are required to submit a transcript, and letter of recommendation, share what areas of STEM they are interested in and write a short essay. Applicants are reviewed by academics and private-industry partners with an eye toward leadership potential, diversity in geography and background, and applicant interests.

The scholars selected to participate in the program spend the academic year attending STEM conferences, participating in team-based research projects, and networking with New Jersey STEM professionals, policymakers, educators and researchers. Teachers and industry leaders mentor the undergraduate and graduate students, who in turn mentor the high school students. The research projects are judged at the end of the program; some of the scholars get to brief legislators on their findings at the State House in Trenton.

At this year’s fifth anniversary commencement May 11 at Kean University, diplomas signed by Governor Phil Murphy will be presented to 80 scholars. Senator Cory Booker will deliver a congratulatory video, and the governor has been invited to speak.

NJIT has three scholars in this year’s cohort. “Growing the pipeline that supplies the STEM workforce is essential for economic prosperity,” says NJIT president Joel S. Bloom, Ed.D. “The Governor’s STEM Scholars Program makes an important contribution toward that effort.”

Other industry partners of the program include Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson; the PSEG Foundation; and Eatontown-based Subcom, a global supplier of undersea communications systems.

Some partners are already seeing the benefits of the program. “The Governor’s STEM Scholars students are making a significant impact in their communities and leading change across New Jersey,” says Barb Short, chief diversity officer, foundation president and senior director of corporate citizenship at PSEG.

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New Bergen County Prosecutor Sworn In

Bergen County has a new prosecutor.

Mark Musella, a lifelong Bergen County resident, was sworn in to the position Monday by Super Court Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol.

Musella is the chief law enforcement officer of Bergen County. Taking the job is a return to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office for Musella, who was an assistant prosecutor from 1988 to 1994. He was assistant chief of the trial and grand jury sections.

During his first stint with prosecutor’s office, Musella, a Wood-Ridge resident, prosecuted 50 trials and handled hundreds of pleas, sentences, bails, and motions.

Musella has worked as a criminal and civil attorney since 1994. He was the municipal prosecutor for the borough of Hasbrouck Heights and public defender for 12 Bergen County municipalities.

Musella is a 1980 graduate of Bergen Catholic High School. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Fordham University in 1984 and earned his law degree from Widener University in Delaware in 1987.

Dennis Calo served as acting prosecutor since January 2018. He was sworn in as first assistant prosecutor. Chief Robert Anzilotti, who was acting chief of detectives, was sworn in as chief of detectives.

Email: daniel.hubbard@patch.com