The South Orange Board of Trustees passed a motion during a special meeting Thursday, appointing Shinell Smith as acting municipal clerk ending Robin Kline's tenure in the position.
Kline's appointing resolution, which was passed in 2010, set a termination date of July 31, 2013. The Board of Trustees had until Sept. 30 to make a decision on whether or not to reappoint Kline.
The village website previously stated the board expressed a “fundamental opposition to tenure and is exploring its options at this time and intends to address the issue of tenure with the State Legislature.”
“In general, I can personally say that I do agree with the board that the tenure laws in New Jersey are a relic of well intended but poorly written laws that leave too much open to judicial interpretation and need to be reformed,” Village President Alex Torpey said.
During the meeting, Trustees Sheena Collum and Steve Schnall repeatedly attempted to postpone the resolution appointing Smith, citing a “unique circumstance.”
“There has been additional information the board has not had a chance to consider,” Shnall said. “There has been a groundswell of citizen response expressing their interest and concern about this resolution. There has also been an official letter that has come from the municipal clerk indicating that she has an interest in collaborating with this Board to see if we can identify a way to move forward that will work.”
“We have heard from a lot of members of the community who have showed a testament to their interactions with our village clerk and we have not had an opportunity to discuss it in closed session,” Collum said.
The pair alluded to an online petition that urged the board to reappoint Kline. As of Thursday, the petition had more than 90 signatures.
Collum and Schnall made repeated motions to table the resolution to discuss at the next meeting, a motion to wait to vote until Trustee Mark Rosner was present, who had not yet arrived, and finally a motion to strike the resolution to appoint Smith to the position.
Each motion failed 2-3 with only Collum and Schnall voting in favor. Trustees Walter Clarke, Deborah Davis Ford and Howard Levison all voted against each motion.
Finally, the resolution to appoint Smith passed 3-2. Clarke, Davis Ford and Levison voted in favor with Collum and Schnall voting against.
“What I see is a board who fired a marvelous employee and for what reason?” asked resident Edith Oxfeld, a South Orange resident of 60 years and former president of the League of Women Voters. “She has been doing superb work and you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“You have now resigned yourself to every three years finding yourself a new village clerk,” resident Bob Landau said. “If you want someone with five years of experience, they will have to leave a tenured position for a three-year contract and then leave. This is crazy and I don't see an excuse for this.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Collum made a motion to reconsider the resolution to appoint Smith. The outcome was the same, with Rosner abstaining from the vote because he missed the prior discussions.
“I'm stunned,” Kline said after the meeting.
“It has been three very rewarding years serving South Orange Village as your Village Clerk. Although it was my desire to continue my public service career in South Orange, the board released its decision earlier in August not to re-appoint me due to their philosophical opposition to the tenure provision,” Kline said in an open letter to the residents of South Orange.
“I am equally proud of the team I have hired and trained in the Village Clerk’s Office. I have invested much time sharing my knowledge and expertise with my staff. Every day I mentored a culture of excellence in customer service, which I believe is the hallmark of a conscientious public servant. I trust the Village Clerk’s Office is in good hands.”