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Heated Meeting Leads to Contract Offers

Tempers flare at the latest BOT meeting.

A recap of Thursday’s Board of Trustees Special Meeting

Announcements

  • Free Electronic Drop-Off Day – Saturday, September 17; 8:00 a.m. to noon, Public Works Garage at 300 Walton Avenue.  Two proofs of residency are required.
  • Final Container Day – Saturday, September 24th; 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Public Works Garage at
    300 Walton Avenue.  Two proofs of residency are required.  No commercial vehicles allowed.

Public Comments

This meeting was called by the Board of Trustees for the purpose of .  Prior to voting on the resolutions was a public comment section where various residents voiced their displeasure about the process of the negotiations involving the contracts stated in the resolutions.  During the week, some residents were demanding that the terms of the contracts be posted in public prior to the meeting. 

“How are we as residents supposed to provide feedback to our village representatives when we have nothing to provide feedback on,” resident John Purkett asked, prior to the reading of the contract terms. 

Village Counsel had stated that the town should not release the terms of the contract prior to the meeting.  Since the contract was a personnel matter, it fell under executive privileges.

“When we discussed this previously, this board with Village Counsel, no one had ever heard of a situation where a municipality released the terms of an employment contract before an agreement was made,” said Village President Alex Torpey.  “I don’t think that’s a wise precedent to set.”

Trustee Deborah Davis Ford advocated for the proper procedures to be followed during the meeting.  This included not reading the terms of the contract during the public comment section and instead waiting until the resolution came up to vote.  Trustee Michael Goldberg disagreed, feeling that the public was there to hear the terms.

“I don’t understand the downside of just disclosing the terms,” said Goldberg.  “Obviously we have a room full of people here; I think they’re here because they want to hear what the terms of the agreement are.”

Davis Ford brought up her experience running meetings for the Essex County Freeholders.  She currently is the clerk for the board.  She stated that in her experience, the public comment portion of a meeting should be for public comments only.  Goldberg then questioned whether being like Essex County was an ideal thing to do.

“Well Essex County has a certain reputation,” said Goldberg.  “I don’t know if we want to mimic Essex County.”

Before Goldberg could finish, Davis Ford interjected, telling Goldberg she did not feel his comments were called for.

“I’m offended,” said Davis Ford.  “That’s totally unacceptable.  I’m trying to stay focused and deal with the issue and you didn’t need to go there.  I suggest you don’t go there because you don’t want to deal with me like that.”

Davis Ford went on to describe Goldberg’s comments as “mean spirited” and said the comments were typical of a “little seventh grade middle school boy.”  As she spoke, Goldberg grinned and asked if she was “stunned,” mimicking Davis Ford’s surprised reaction at Monday’s special meeting when Goldberg voted against the introduced budget.

Following that exchange, Torpey, citing a lack of precedent, did not allow the terms to be revealed until it was time to vote on the resolution.  This did not sit well with the remaining residents who spoke.

“While clearly the attorney is right, there is no right for us to review the terms and conditions of such a contract prior to the Board of Trustees voting on it, it doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do,” said resident Steve Kitzenger. 

Consent Agenda

  • Three resolutions were on the consent agenda and all three were removed to be voted on separately.
  • Resolution 2011-242 passed 4-3 after Alex Torpey cast the tie-breaking vote.  Trustees Janine Bauer, Nancy Gould and Michael Goldberg provided the nay votes.  This resolution authorized the Village President to execute a to South Orange.
  • Resolution 2011-243 passed 4-3 after Torpey cast the tie-breaking vote.  Trustees Bauer, Gould and Goldberg again voted nay.  This resolution authorized the Village President to execute a contract with John O. Gross to remain in South Orange as part-time CFO.

Following the reading of the resolutions, the trustees expressed why they would or would not be voting for them.

Bauer expressed that while she felt the terms of the contract were “appropriate terms for this situation,” she was unhappy with the process that the negotiations took place. 

“In my view, the process violated the Open Public Meetings Act,” said Bauer.  “Because of that, I’ve weighed this very heavily and even though I do support the terms of the agreement, I’m not critical of the agreement, I think given all of the circumstances, the amount, the term, the duration and particularly the end of the duration adequately protects the Village, however I cannot agree with the process that was followed for this.”

Bauer disagreed with the process as she felt that not every trustee was consulted when there was an agreement.  Davis Ford responded that she respects her colleague, but disagrees with the assessment.

“The process was thorough,” said Davis Ford.  “It involved a committee to do the process.  The communications was done with great intention with every board member here.  The process specifically was to look at all the things we were obligated to do by state law, to make sure first we didn’t violate anything.  Then to look at the contract obligations we had; Then to look at the best interest of the Village.”

Davis Ford discussed the time constraints put on the committee, claiming that they didn’t know about Gross’ impending departure until August 15.  Trustee Howard Levison, who is a Trustee member of the administrator search committee with Davis Ford and Nancy Gould and Village President Torpey, talked about the urgency to work out the details of Gross’ departure.

“John is leaving on October 1,” said Levison.  “Time of the essence, we need to have an interim administrator and getting another administrator working in this village and going through the transition.”

Levison spoke of the urgency to keep Gross in the Village employ as certain projects still needed his attention.

“The contract for consulting services include a lot of loose ends which still exist within the Village that we need to negotiate and need to have done within the next six months,” said Levison.  “That consulting contract is securing what we need to do and we will be very specific to the assignments that will be given to John.”

Trustee Mark Rosner brought up that the terms of the contract were near what the Board of Trustees had agreed upon before negotiations began. 

“Before the negotiating committee went in to meet with John, we had the agreement of all seven people on this board to move forward with negotiations because all seven people said they wanted to keep John on for some period of time and for some pay,” said Rosner.  “The administrative contract is very close to what the board had agreed to in executive session.  As far as the CFO agreement, it did go in higher as we got to part of the negotiations and we left it at that because the majority of this board did agree that that agreement was fair.”

Not all trustees agreed with the terms of the contract.  Trustees Goldberg and Gould felt the contract offered compensation that was too high for a length that was too long.  Gould also brought up the fact that Gross would be occupying a space in Village Hall while his successor worked.

“I believe that having Mr. Gross remain at Village Hall will blur the line of responsibility for our village staff,” said Gould.  “There may be confusion over who is ultimately in charge.  Is it Mr. Gross or is it the new village administrator.”

Goldberg felt that Gross’ West Orange contract blocked him from being able to adequately perform his duties for South Orange.  The contract states that Gross is not allowed to work more than ten hours a week for South Orange.

“It puts the residents of South Orange second to another employer and another municipality, particularly during business hours,” said Goldberg.  “That’s just unacceptable.”

  • Resolution 2011-244 passed 4-2.  Trustees Bauer and Goldberg cast the nay votes.  This resolution authorized the Village President to execute a contract with Government Management Advisors, LLC to provide the Township of South Orange Village with an interim administrator.  The administrator who will be filling the job is former city administrator of Summit, NJ, Reagan Burkholder.

Burkholder spoke to the Trustees prior to the vote.

“I come to you as a guy who cares passionately about local government,” said Burkholder.  “The way I exercise that passion is by trying to help elected and appointed officials do the best job they can in running their municipalities.”

Gould, a former resident of Summit, spoke of her memories of Burkholder.

“I used to watch Mr. Burkholder on TV and I used to read about him in the paper and I thought he did a wonderful job,” said Gould.  “He was universally loved in Summit and he is going to be a great addition to this town.”

All Board of Trustees meetings can be viewed on the South Orange Village website here.

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