After months of public turmoil and an Open Public Records Act denial to news organizations, the financial impact is emerging from the investigation and resolution between Holmdel Township and its former top employee.
HOLMDEL, NJ - In Holmdel, it pays to be investigated. About eight months pay, benefits and related pension contributions.
Initially, many news organizations, including TAPinto Holmdel and Colts Neck, requested the separation agreement and related financial records for the recently departed Township Administrator Donna Vieiro. The Township denied them based on a personnel exemption.
However, this news organization submitted a second OPRA request for financials only, requesting specifically the financial and other benefits to Donna Viero for 2019 and 2020 if applicable. The data was subsequently released.
The total package: $220,716.36. In addition to this, based on approvals by the Township Committee, add approximately $70,000 to legal expenses and $10,000 in new fees to a consulting company hired to gather resumes for the job - where experience is preferred but not required.
The new cost for the year which includes four months of work prior to paid suspension is over $300,000.00. Vieiro did work until the beginning of May in this environment, however, leaving the total at about $240,000. However, this doesn't include the pay and benefits that continued during suspension of Denise Callery. She is now back at work after receiving a five day suspension. This was a journey for a small suburban community.
The 2019 year apparently started off badly in town hall and, as of the beginning of May, two employees were suspended at full pay. They were Township Administrator Donna Vieiro and Human Resources Director Denise Callery. Vieiro, Township Administrator (and Past-President of the New Jersey Municipal Managers Association), was one of the subjects of an investigation that was initiated during a public meeting by Deputy Mayor Mike Nikolis.
While the Mayor was Away
In a meeting in May, a special meeting, Acting Mayor (Deputy Mayor) Mike Nikolis, Committeeman Rocco Pascucci and Committeeman Greg Buontempo led a charge to suspend Township Administrator Donna Vieiro and Human Resources Director Denise Callery over allegations of nepotism. Commiteeman Tom Critelli voted no. Mayor Hinds was not in attendance. Both employees forced the Townhip Committee to discuss the issue in public instead of executive session. This is often done by employees to add sunshine to a process that is typically behind closed doors.
At the time, Hinds and Nikolis were locked in a five way primary election. Nikolis ultimately lost to newcomer Chiung-Yin Liu by a handful of votes during a protracted recount.
At the time, the required public notice was sent out by attorney Michael Collins as the Municipal Clerk was out sick. Collins (a former member of the Holmdel Board of Education) discussed allegations made about hiring processes in the town. The allegations were that the HR Director pushed to hire a family member with the knowledge and participation of the township administrator (see video). It has been reported by many that the employee who made the allegation is the former CFO Jeannette Larrison. Larrison left Holmdel to be the Township Administrator of Milltown.
During the meeting, discussion ensued in regard to the allegations. A special counsel was hired to investigate the matter. The attorney hired to do the investigation was Sean Kean. Kean is also known to many as the Republican State Assemblyman in Wall Township, representing the 30th Legislative District. Ultimately Kean stands to earn nearly $70,000 to dig into the local allegations, based on public information.
Committeeman Pascucci had expressed concerns about investigation obstruction at the time and said to Kean "You are going to be as objective as possible, I'm sure, because I have a feeling that there are some obstructionists up here (referring to his fellow elected officials)."
"I think the three of you are going down a path that is a mistake" stated Critelli at the time. Collins advised the elected officials that the process is not so simple. "We can't just make a motion, we need to figure out terms" said Collins. He also advised them that the matter may end soon. "It's entirely possible that alot of the allegations that were provided are false and if that were the case, I'm sure the matter would clear up rather quickly." He was prescient on that count.
The Police Chief was named township administrator and still serves in the role. The Police Chief and others were named in a lawsuit over the mugshot released of the school field defecating former Superintendent of Kenilworth Schools. That case in ongoing as well.
Mayor Hinds was reached by TAPinto Holmdel at the time and commented, "I'm disapponted that they would suspend our administrator for no reason. Holmdel just received a AAA rating. She was just honored as Administrator of the Year. She's done an incredible job for Holmdel. To not have her services while Holmdel's taxpayers are paying her makes zero sense to me. I did not understand where she was in conflict at any point. I'm very disappointed."
Critelli had a dark view of the event. "My fear is that by taking this action we will lose the best township administrator that the town has ever had. Vieiro was recently named 'Manager of the Year' and Holmdel has earned a Triple A financial rating for municipal finance purposes. She was previously applauded for the results that few municipalities earn.
Committeeman Pascucci added, "If Donna wants to walk let her walk. I mean I would love her to stay, you know how I feel about her. but that's her thing and I think she has to have big enough gonads to stay in place - gonads. I vote to support this resolution." Vieiro, a long time female administrator and former Manager of the Year, didn't comment on any of the proceedings.
The discussion on employment matters didn't end there. Nikolis supporter Serena DiMaso, a former Mayor and current State Assemblywoman, was pulled directly into the discussion on the record, by lifelong Holmdel resident Debbie Brew. Brew called on the Township Committee to 'not play favorites' and to extend their investigations into all hiring issues, including one identified through OPRA requests as involving DiMaso.
"Since special counsel has been hired to look into hiring practices or matters where the township is concerned. I would like the improper conduct of the entire township committee regarding all matters including mine be included in the findings." Brew brought with her approximately 528 pages of communications that she received after her OPRA filing requesting communication regarding the job she was officially offered from Holmdel Township. She also presented 50 pages of communications that were released from the township that are from Serena DiMaso and sent to sitting elected officials and referenced Debbie Brew's job offer which was subsequently and suddenly retracted.
OPRA requests were submitted by many news outlets to Holmdel Township for the settlement agreement between Holmdel Township and Donna Vieiro. The investigation itself was highly controversial and split the Township Committee. The investigation appears to have concluded with no known findings that Holmdel will share with the public. In fact, she left in what Holmdel Township calls 'good standing'.
In the end, the deciding vote to pay Donna Vieiro a total package in 2019 of $220,716.36 (according to documents released by the Holmdel Municipal Clerk) was Deputy Mayor Mike Nikolis.
The effect for Holmdel taxpayers is to pay the full salary and benefits, of an employee who is no longer working in Holmdel, until New Years Day 2020.