MADISON, NJ – So many people packed borough council chambers on March 12 that the meeting was moved across the way to the Presbyterian Church of Madison.
The majority residents had one issue in mind: the termination of Borough Administrator Raymond M. Codey at the Feb. 27 council meeting. The move was proposed as a cost saving measure in light of budget discussions.
But a number of people objected to the way the matter was handled, the lack of respect shown to Codey and the public dismissal at an open council meeting.
Council President Jeannie Tsukamoto, who had introduced the resolution at the previous meeting to terminate Codey, said she was told by the borough attorney that the council could not act in private.
“We were told to carry out our actions in public. This was difficult and uncomfortable for me. I agonized over it.” She stressed that she is working for the taxpayers and the budget is the most important part of the job. “There was not a gentler and less public way to do this.” She said Codey could have excused himself, but had declined.
“This has sent a shock wave into neighboring towns,” Mayor Robert Conley said. He urged those who chose to speak to limit their comments to three minutes. When asked about Codey’s current status, he said, “On paper, he’s still the administrator and remains on the payroll.”
The resolution introduced at the last meeting would have eliminated the assistant borough administrator position and made the current assistant, Jim Burnet, the administrator. Those resolutions were tabled at the March 12 meeting. Conley said a special budget meeting will be held within the next two weeks, before the March 26 regular council meeting.
Later in the meeting, Burnet said, “I did not know my position would be terminated and that I would be the administrator. Ray is a better man for the job. He took me under his wing and trained me. It's hard to deal with this.”
One resident noted that Codey had offered to work for 90 days to ease the transition to his replacement, but was told no. “This is poor planning. You created an assistant position a few years ago and now you say it’s redundant,” the resident said.
Former Mayor Woody Kerkeslager said that the budget did not need to be reduced by $200,000. Instead, the $300,000 expense for electricity usage should be removed. Electricity in each borough building, previously metered and managed by KWHR, would be billed by the borough and its departments and paid from their operating budgets. Regarding Codey’s removal, he said, “It was mishandled, disrespectful and generated many strong emotions because of the lack of civility in the process.”
Board of Education President Lisa Ellis said, “Three minutes is not enough time to express my disappointment. This has done immeasurable harm to our reputation. You asked us to think that this was a budgetary necessity, but there is not evidence to prove this is the best or only option.” She noted that one third of the borough’s staff makes over $100,000.
Judy Campbell, who has served on the Board of Trustees at Drew University, said that Codey had done much to improve relations between the university and the borough. “Jim Burnet will be wonderful, but he won’t have any time. We can’t afford to go backwards.”
A number of residents talked about the accomplishments of Administrator Codey during his five years in Madison, including a savings of $1.4 million, resulting from shared services, negotiations with labor unions and police because of his legal experience in addition to moving forward a number of projects such as the Madison Recreation Center.
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