HOLMDEL, NJ - The Holmdel Township Committee has canceled a special meeting that was previously scheduled to interview former Township Administrator Donna Vieiro about sports field plans and related professional services authorizations on September 23, 2019.
Instead, according to news released on Friday, the discussion will be added to the agenda for the regular meeting on Tuesday September 24, 2019. It is scheduled for 7:30 PM.
Spending authority: The investigation underway is, in part, designed to see which elected official, if any, is behind the engineering expenses in question.
The law is that no elected official has the legal capacity to do that.
Local Public Contracts Law has procedures within which purchases are made and awards of contracts are structured. Any elected official may think they can order work to be done but they can't. In this instance, the engineer would respond with other engineers to an RFP or RFQ during what is typically called the Fair and Open Process. It is begun prior to the end of the year.
On reorganization, the governing body would appoint the engineer, draft an agreement consistent with the proposal that was approved and provide funding in the municipal budget to allow work to be performed.
While the various unique factors are unclear to the public in the latest investigation, one thing is clear. No elected official can unilaterally order work to be done. It is the administrator and professionals who would accept guidance from the governing body and then follow whatever process is in place to provide the legal framework within which the work may be conducted.
Professionals often rely on the Administrator to guide accordingly. On occasion, work efforts may be undertaken at risk, assuming the appropriate approvals for work and payment will be forthcoming.
Holmdel Township is a Township Committee form of government. Comprised of volunteer elected officials that have staggered terms of three years. It is the oldest form of government in New Jersey. Each elected official has equal power. Meaning, no one member of the Township Committee has more power than the other. Annually, they choose from among each other, one person to serve as Chair, or Mayor.
The Mayor has certain appointing authority such as planning board members. Otherwise, it is a ceremonial title.
Neither the Mayor nor any individual on the Township Committee is able to purchase goods or services unless expressly permitted by a majority of the governing body. Meaning, in the event one tries to do it, they cannot.
'Turf' battles: At issue are engineering fees surrounding the feasibility of installing a turf sports field in the area of land at the Holmdel Pool Club where the former tennis courts were located. One faction of the Township Committee has argued that they were not aware of the potential project. This includes outgoing Township Committeeman Mike Nikolis as well as Committeemen Pascucci and Buontempo. They are investigating who authorized the work and related invoices. Pascucci opined that something illegal happened.
As a result of the controversy, Hinds called for an audit of all municipal expenses going back to January 1st, 2019. He is including engineering, legal and all other expenses. Former Administrator Vieiro is slated to be at the meeting and will be asked to shed light on the issue. Viero recently resigned in good standing and, according to this publication's Open Public Records Act request, she will receive full salary and insurance for the entire 2019 calendar year. This was the result of a prior investigation that cost in excess of $50,000 in legal fees.
The recent history of turf fields has been controversial. Much of it escalated when the Township Committee passed a bond ordinance in 2017 to develop turf fields at Cross Farm Park. Local residents opposed it and banded together to fight it and the Township Committee in that year decided to rescind the ordinance. Cross Farm was funded in part by green acres funding from the State of New Jersey. This means access is provided to all NJ residents within certain parameters.
Many residents had environmental concerns over artificial turf. Also, the new facility would be in high demand by folks out of the area, affecting local scheduling and creating additional impacts such as traffic and light pollution if lights were also installed. After the project was nixed, the administrator and governing body discussed moving forward to determine locations other than Cross Farm Park.
Politics: The dispute has morphed into an election debate. In addition to nearly a year of infighting on the dais, a host of anonymous blogs have been sending out emails calling for Hinds to resign while inviting residents to fundraisers for Independent candidates in the election. They are Prakash Santhana and Cathy Weber.
Confusion: In addition to about 5 anonymous email lists and blogs, republican party confusion abounds. the older Holmdel Republican Facebook site is now used to cross promote the blogs attacking Republican Mayor Hinds. It has been administered by Mike Nikolis, Serena DiMaso and former Holmdel resident Thomas Scarano. Scarano was previously the Holmdel Republican Chairman. Marcy McMullen replaced Scarano and is the new Chairwoman and the administrator of the now official Holmdel Republican Facebook page called Holmdel NJ Republicans. This is the page for the Monmouth County Republican Organization, endorsed candidates, Eric Hinds and Chiung-Yin Cheng Liu.
No Democrats have filed to run this year on the township committee level.