MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Calvin Bell, Maplewood’s Public Works director, was fired for cause from his position at last night’s Township Committee meeting.
In her report during the Jan. 7 meeting, Business Administrator Sonia Alves-Viveiros said that in reviewing the Public Works Department as she took on her role in June of 2018, she saw “issues related to reporting of incidents, hiring of staff, and morale within the department.
“At the beginning of 2019 I again brought my concerns to the director of public works regarding recording of incidents and poor morale within the department. I worked with the director throughout this time, facilitating a culture study in the spring of 2019 followed by other employee-related training, such as anti-bias training, in hopes that the study and trainings would be a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, there were additional incidents where employees hired failed to report to work. Approximately 20 grievances [were] filed for improper distribution of overtime. Moreover, there was an incident related to the safety of employees that was not reported to the proper chain of command, which resulted in various disciplinary actions, one including to the director.
“Additionally, following the failure to report the incident, there was again failure to report to meetings that required DPW representation and information from the director. These failures to appear were addressed on various occasions throughout 2019. Issues of abuse of time were also brought to Mr. Bell’s attention, a second suspension was served as a result of the abuse of time and insubordination.”
Viveiros also spoke of receiving an email on Jan. 3 from the recycling receiver for the town, announcing suspension of service for non-payment of approximately $57,000, which was past due for 90 days. She quickly worked out payment for the vendor, and the township’s service was resumed. “Today I met with Mr. Bell along with the CFO to ask about the outstanding invoices.”
“I asked Mr. Bell why the invoices were not paid, and he stated that he did not know, and did not provide any justification or explanation for his failure to ensure payment.” She said she noted to Bell that the vendor “stated that all invoices were sent to the director and the assistant to the DPW director.”
She stated she had already put Bell “on notice” about this type of non-payment issue, having had it come up twice since the summer, with vendors for landscaping and bio-diesel fuel. “These services are vital to the township and its residents,” said Viveiros. “The jitney services depend on the fuel, and recycling has to be taken to a facility for processing.”
She concluded that due to the incidents of non-payment and the employee-related incidents, “I am recommending that the township consider terminating Mr. Bell’s employment.” His “insubordination and neglect of duties are to the point where operations have been and are compromised,” she stated.
This discussion and decision was held in public session instead of the private session of the committee at Bell’s request, so that his attorney could respond on his behalf. Eldrige Hawkins spoke at length about his concern that his client was served his notice of the evening’s procedures on Jan. 3 yet the report included information that Viveiros “could not possibly have had on January the Third when her notice was sent out. So it sounds to me as if she had planned on communicating a request for your body to agree to terminate my client predicated upon something she was gonna have set up between the Third and today.”
He also said he “couldn’t quite understand how” his client never received, “as your policy requires,” a final warning that termination could be imminent, and that Bell was not reappointed to his position during the Jan. 1 reorganization meeting.
Although Hawkins did not rebut any of the specific concerns or incidents Viveiros delineated in her report to the township committee, he stated that “everything she’s laid out is wrong. And as I said, as a trial attorney, I’m happy to hear it.”
The vote to terminate Bell’s employment was unanimous, and a search for a replacement was authorized to commence as soon as possible. The recorded livestream of the township meeting is posted on YouTube.