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Chester Mayor Defends Sandy Evacuation, Officers

Bill Cogger said his officers risked their lives to evacuate residents during storm.

Two weeks ago at the Chester Borough meeting of the mayor and council, Cherry Tree Lane resident Sue Pinto read from a letter with a list of questions regarding the evacuation of her street at the height of superstorm Sandy.

At that meeting in the borough, Pinto described her evacuation from her home and difficulty in finding information and security from officials. There, she was met with sympathy for her plight and consternation over her account of her treatment during the storm.

At Tuesday’s Chester Township meeting, the reaction was markedly different.

“I really resent the insinuation,” Mayor Bill Cogger said. “You are not giving facts you are giving opinions. I get a little tired when people act in the best interest of the residents and get questioned after.”

The questions Pinto listed on Tuesday night were the same ones she asked of the Chester Borough Council Dec. 4. They included:

  • Was the gas leak verified before the evacuation?
  • Why didn’t police give residents a place to go?
  • Why didn’t the police take the contact info of residents?
  • When were officials informed of the decisions?

“Nobody did anything to cause anybody damage,” Cogger said. “And my police officers were out there risking their damn lives.”

Pinto asked why Cogger was getting angry with her.

“I am angry at what I read,” Cogger said. “I am angry at what it is insinuating. You are asking these questions as if the police acted independently.”

Pinto said she and her neighbors were forced to leave during the storm and left out in the dark with nowhere to go. Those who did make it to the firehouse were left in cold bays that housed the trucks. 

“We weren’t looking for five star accommodations. Just warmth and protection,” Pinto said. “I am sorry, it was a horrible night.”

To that, Cogger agreed.

“It was a horrible night. But it was worse for that couple in Mendham. It is terrible to say this, but you have to be self-reliant,” Cogger said. “There was no place and it was scary and I don’t know what to do about that. We can provide a place for people to go temporarily but we can’t open a shelter. As you can tell, that night was absolute chaos. It was a very hectic and scary night and nobody died. Nobody got hurt.”

Since the storm, Cogger said he had received the letter Sue Pinto read to the council as well as a letter from her husband Frank, who is the Director of the Department of Human Services for Morris County. Cogger said he offered to meet with the Pintos before the council meeting but their schedules didn’t match up.

Chester Township Cpl. Detective Anthony DaCunza also followed up with the Pinto’s as part of an internal affairs investigation into the night of the storm. The results of that investigation have not yet been released.

“Detective DaCunza is a gentleman,” Frank Pinto said. “I think, Bill, if you had talked to my wife the way that he did we wouldn’t be dealing with post-traumatic stress.”

Frank Pinto said the questions his wife asked she had a right to ask and had a right to have answered. 

“I have been a public servant for 25 years and if I spoke to anyone like that I would be hung," Frank Pinto said. "I am really disappointed in you Bill.”

Cogger said that he is continuing to meet with the Chester Borough to enhance their services and plans to contact every resident about storm readiness in the future.

Henry Krinkle December 19, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Mr. Cogger should have simply apologized and promised to work to improve the system. Obviously his massive ego cannot handle the justifiable criticism. Once word gets out, his ill-conceived and shocking tough guy stance will deservedly cost him his political career.
Joan December 19, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Our mayor both our police and these residents in jeopardy due to a poorly thought out plan. Shame on him for his remarks to a Chester citizen who had every right to ask the questions that she did. There is learning to be had here so why squash it and ridicule Ms. Pinto. Mr. Cogger works for the citizens. He is not the town czar. Perhaps he needs to be reminded of this.
Barbara December 19, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Kudos to the Pintos and shame on Mayor Cogger. Again, lots of political finger pointing but no ownership. As the CEO of Chester Township, the buck stops on the Mayor's desk. The only correct response to the Pintos would have been a sincere apology and an honest response to their questions, even if there was some admission of fault. Mayor Cogger- what have you learned from Sandy? How far have you gotten on implementing an improved system and a better emergency plan for the next time? Have you identified an emergency shelter and begun the necessary steps to get official clearance for one? You had a full year from 2011-2012 to proactively address all of these issues and many more. Why didn't you?
Michelle Pond December 19, 2012 at 04:57 PM
As Mayor, is it not your duty to represent the interests of the people? The Pintos presented a list of questions that are to be addressed as "lessons learned". Bill Cogger acted in a unprofessional manner and in his rudeness, managed to avoid the concerns presented to him. Can't wait to see his results for future storm readiness in the future.
Gene Osso December 19, 2012 at 05:06 PM
" It is terrible to say this, but you have to be self-reliant,” Good for mayor Cogger. He's right about that and it's not terrible to say. There are some people who cannot bear the thought that they, themselves, are responsible for themselves and think that the government is OBLIGATED to help them at all times. It's not - and better that way. The storm wasnt a surprise. The police did what they thought was best and Mayor Cogger didn't have some crystal ball to know what was happening everywhere at all times. When the storm of the century is being predicted for a week ahead of time, you make some preparations - have a plan. Don't wait for a small local police department to figure out what to do for you. You need to be smarter than that and living in Chester, you know the power loss is guaranteed. If a gas line blew up, they would have saved lives with their actions. Really, who could have guaranteed any place was safe that night?
BerniesBarStool December 19, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Everyone should really step back and take a deep breath here. This storm was bad for sure,probably for most the worst they had ever seen. All this said and fortified with that knowledge all public departments in the Chesters really should put aside the nonsensical Borough vs. Township rhetoric and look at what is to be done next time. And make no mistake there will be a next time,could be next month or next year but its going to happen. It appears in reading that other towns were far more prepared,perhaps all egos should be put on a shelf ( where the belong anyway) and have a "Mayors Summit" to exchange ideas on what worked and what did not,just thinking outside the "Small town Fiefdom" mind set here for a minute. No one can be 100% prepared for these things but I do agree that we as citizens really do need to be a little more self reliant,for gods sake take some pride and stop relying on the government for all our needs in emergent situations. The government and their agents are not super human and they should not be expected to be.hey should however be as prepared as possible and the leadership,Mayors and Councils should all be on board with a plan that can be enacted in a matter of hours when these things occur,thus lessening their frustration and the public's as well
Henry Krinkle December 19, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Those folks were FORCED to evacuate with no guidance beyond that. And that kind of incompetence is indefensible, yet the mayor has taken a very defensive position. Absolutely unaccepatable behavior...enjoy your retirement from political life, Mr. Cogger.
L. Cattuna December 20, 2012 at 02:59 PM
As a public servant, you have to answer the people's questions. Have a little empathy Mr. Mayor. Don't be so defensive. I admire the Pinto's for speaking up. Perhaps now Chester will be more prepared in the future because of them.

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