HOLMDEL, NJ - With a packed house, The Holmdel Township Committee resumed their investigatory hearing on Tuesday evening in regard to the controversy and confusion over the design and construction of a proposed multipurpose recreation field to be located at a vacant site next to the Holmdel Swim Club. It was a lesson in Government 101 for many observers.
The resolution to approve a new field was on the consent agenda back in April for the field and was never passed. Three members, Pascucci, Nikolis and Buontempo, failed to attend the meeting so it was canceled due to no quorum. The controversy grew from that point.
Unlike previous meetings that were rather combative with calls for resignations and claims of illegal behavior, the meeting was cordial and professional. The attendance was high and cameras were rolling.
Based on the questions from members of the Township Committee, the meeting served as investigative and in other ways a tutorial for the audience and elected officials on aspects of how municipal government works in New Jersey.
Vieiro had chosen to not participate in the vitriolic discourse over the last few months but took questions from all members of the governing body during this evening. Much of the meeting regarded general process for agendas, how bonding works and the process within which she delegates tasks among township employees and their professionals.
Mayor Hinds, who serves as the Chairman of Administration, started with a statement and then other elected officials were given the floor to make their own comments and directly question Donna former administrator Vieiro.
Hinds said (excerpted here, unedited in video below), “Over the past few months, I have patiently listened to accusations, endured personal attacks and have seen good employees become fearful due to the actions of this committee. It is now my time to set the record straight."
He continued, "It should come as no surprise to anyone in this room or for that matter in Holmdel that it has been my goal and vision for 10 years to improve the recreational fields in Holmdel. This is not newsworthy. In the beginning of this year, I had conversations with three out of the four committeemen, commissioners and leaders of all sports organizations with regard to a multipurpose field at the swim club. All were in favor of considering this property. And why wouldn’t it be considered? It is used two months out of the year, has the infrastructure, parking, lights and currently stands as an eyesore and safety risk. The pool club was already included in the scope of the bonding for recreational improvements. What changed? In the spring, Mr. Nikolis was removed from the Republican line as my running mate. When I accepted the county nomination, a personal vendetta ensued and I have been attacked since then. Up until that point, both Mike Nikolis and Rocco Pascucci were in full support of my vision and plan for recreation. This is purely political. I asked Donna to look into the feasibility of a multi-purpose turf field at the pool club to be used by many sports organizations including lacrosse and football. I never authorized the spending of any money. Not only did I not authorize any money to be spent, I don’t have the legal ability to do so." Hinds concluded.
In attendance at the meeting was former Township Administrator Donna Vieiro. She received a subpoena to attend and brought her attorney. Donna Vieiro stated, “I have become a pawn in a political fight."
Committeeman Gregory Buontempo, who also serves as the Chairman of Public Works (which includes engineering) asked Vieiro a number of questions in regard to the plans in question and the many emails involved. Specifically, he inquired about whether Vieiro believed the Township Committee was only going to find out about the field in question at the meeting. She said that everyone understood that all the committee was aware of the project.
Much of the upset was about officials feeling left out of information. In this instance, fingers were pointed at the Mayor and Committeeman Critelli. The Mayor Chairs Administration and Critelli serves as the Chairman of Parks and Recreation and would typically be more involved in a field project. Mike Nikolis is the Chairman of Information Technology.
Committeeman Pascucci, who also serves as the Chairman for Public Safety, also spoke.
Said Pascucci, '"A quick little opening statement from me, okay, $2.1 Million (field) was placed on a consent agenda. There was no resolution, it was placed on bills payable over $3500, that's what I got in my packet, it concerned me."
However, the public agenda for that evening did not have the $2.1 Million listed in the bills payable list over $3500. It was an actual resolution listed separately on the agenda.
The agenda in question is here. Based on the published agenda the only item included in the over $3500 list to be paid was one item for Witmer Public Safety for $3589.
Vieiro tried without success to correct Pasucci. She explained how the agenda process works and the advance notice that all the elected officials receive the agenda well before the meeting. Said Pascucci, "Have you ever seen that done before in your time here that something was placed on a consent agenda on bills payable and nowhere else on the agenda?"
"I believe this was on the consent not on the bills payable" replied Vieiro.
"Under bills payable, I believe, over $3500.00 and nowhere else on the agenda when I received my packet." stated Pascucci.
Vieiro said she couldn't remember. The published agenda indicated that her first recollection was accurate. See video below (in full and unedited) courtesy of CILU: