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Since his appointment 17 months ago, city Police Superintendent Thomas C. Zwelling has been on a leave of absence from his former position -- as a detective.

City records on personnel actions show that Mayor Jacob A. Palillo and City Administrator Thomas C. Lizardo have granted Zwelling "six consecutive three-month leaves of absence from the position of police officer" since his appointment Jan. 1, 1992, to the superintendent's job, which now pays $63,000 a year. Zwelling made $44,622 as a detective in 1991, including overtime, city Personnel Director Lynne McDougall said.

The continued leaves give Zwelling, who will have served 25 years on the city police force on Sept. 6, the right to take back his old job as a detective or a patrol officer in case he decides to give up his top cop slot, Lizardo said.

Zwelling's current leave of absence expires June 30, but it can be continued, Lizardo said.

"This is not new. It's not unique. It's widely practiced through all levels of government. It's not something the city administration came up with. It has been done for years by all administrations," Lizardo said.

"The same thing is being done and has been done for a large number of other people. If a water plant operator becomes a provisional senior water plant operator, I'll grant him a leave of absence (so he has the option of getting his old job back).

"They have that right by law anyway, but somewhere along the way, they started giving leaves of absence. It's an extra layer of protection. I grant leaves if it makes them (employees) feel better."

Lizardo said the mayor can simply reinstate a person to a former position without the benefit of a leave of absence.

Zwelling does not have to comply with a relatively new residency requirement demanded of other new city department heads, Lizardo said.

He is free to live in his Town of Wheatfield home because he was employed by the city before the residency law was enacted, Lizardo said.

As for retirement, the police chief is in better shape than he was as a detective. Were he to retire at the end of this year, Zwelling would receive an annual pension of at least 50 percent of his $63,000 salary, McDougall said.

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