NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The New Providence Borough Council approved a resolution Monday to have up to three-council-member representation at borough boards and committees. In accordance with the Sunshine Law, the change effectively excludes the mayor from attending the meeting if three council members are present.
Council President Robert Munoz, Councilmen Dr. Robert Robinson, Jim Madden, Michael Gennaro and Councilwoman Nadine Geoffroy voted in favor and Councilman Gary Kapner abstained from the vote.
According to Mayor Al Morgan, the representation should include the mayor as an ex-officio member of a committee or board since the mayor represents the executive form of the government while the council acts as the legislative body. The mayor of New Providence has been an ex-officio member of boards and committees since 1899, Morgan said.
Munoz explained that New Jersey has 12 different forms of municipal government. New Providence is representative of “a weak mayor” governing body format, where the mayor only votes as a tiebreaker.
Morgan, clearly not happy with the resolution, suggested the proposal be presented to voters as a referendum question. Morgan said that he likes to listen to board or committee members, advisers and the public in order to make “an educated decision” on a given issue. Munoz noted that the mayor gets to know the issues once the liaison reports them to the council. Morgan vowed to make a commitment that he will continue to voice his opinions on borough issues despite not being allowed to attend meetings.
During the public comment session several residents expressed their disappointment that the mayor will not be able to attend their meeting as they preferred the two council members and a mayor be in attendance at all board and committee functions. Among those who spoke were the Chairman of the Diversity Committee Sunil Abrol and former Councilman Armand Galluccio. Borough resident Peggy McHugh Hagen, who described herself as a Democrat who didn’t even vote for any of the sitting council members or the mayor, asked the council to explain “why” the change is necessary.
"I wonder myself, as a committee chair, why I need three council representatives on a Diversity Committee meeting-- but the mayor, himself, is excluded. I am very very disappointed to hear that is the likely outcome," said Abrol.
Munoz said that the resolution doesn’t hinder the mayor's ability to talk with people, attend mayors' meetings or go to the diversity event, he can still do all of that. "What I am proposing here will not effect that or take that duty away from him." In answering Hagen's question, he said he agrees that the Mayor can not stay if three council members attend committee meetings. He continued to answer Hagen's question, by saying that there is a reason for this decision. "Any decision this council makes, is not done 'willy nilly'. We have a reason for every single decision that we make -- and there is a reason for this one. As for a referendum, we do not put out a referendum on issues that effect the way the council conducts its business. If the issue effects the town as a whole, then that we may consider putting out a referendum. -- But, for the way the council handles its business, that is handled by the council."
Councilman Michael Gennaro said unfortunately there is “another side” to the story and noted that the council is in full compliance with the law with regard to the committee representation decision.
He said that it is clearly within the power of the council to dictate how this meeting proceeds and it is clearly within the power of this council to dictate what committees are created as a creation of council. "Everyone of these committees are created by council and supported by council. It is certainly within the council power to dictate what members of council or governing body including the mayor participate in those committees. In the terms of how those committees are governed, we discussed at the last meeting, it's within our power to do that," he said.
Gennaro explained that the council members have received a number of complaints from borough employees and from the administrator [Doug Marvin] regarding undue influence being brought upon those employees by the mayor and by a relative of the mayor instructing them on how to conduct business for the town, about how to conduct what they were doing in certain town events and how they structure those events. "Those employees came to us with complaints that they were feeling harassed. Doug Marvin can talk to you about this --." Gennaro did not provide further explanation of the complaints. TAPinto New Providence reached out to Borough Administrator Doug Marvin for further explanation of the harassment claims per Gennaro's suggestion. At time of publishing, Marvin had not responded.
Gennaro further said, "We had situations where the mayor and relatives of the mayor were scheduling events in a vacuum. -- We also had a situation, incredibly enough, where the mayor's wife took it upon herself to incur an expense on the borough by ordering banners" for a Diversity Committee event without proper authorization. “As a council, we would be irresponsible if we allowed this stuff to continue," he said.
"These decisions are based purely on the interest of the community and based purely on the interest of our employees. If this council doesn't protect its employees from harassment, how on earth can those people be expected to continue to serve this community. Furthermore, some of those people have threatened litigation against this community. We can't allow this to happen," said Gennaro.
Gennaro said that he had a conversation, as did a number of the council people with this mayor, asking for the behavior to stop and he promised that it would -- it didn't stop.
Morgan and Gennaro squabbled about a "heated argument" they had "behind closed doors."
Borough Administrator Doug Marvin further noted that when borough employees receive instructions from others than himself it creates “confusion”. He noted that some phone calls regarding community events have gone directly to department heads. “The council needs to know what these events are,” he said and added that the purchasing processes have to be followed. He pointed out that “it is important to have a good working relationship with the governing body,” however, that has not always been the case.
"We have processes, and we have policies for example that prohibit individual members of council to meeting with employees," said Marvin. This is due to years ago there was an incident that resulted in litigation -- while neither the current mayor or council members were involved, he reminded everyone, "because of the influence you have, you had an effect on employees, you all do, just by the virtue of your elected position," said Marvin.
Without mentioning names, Morgan said, "You want to bang me for being accountable, for expecting certain things from some people, then so be it, accuse me of that."
Councilwoman Nadine Geoffroy offered more conciliatory words after the at times contested dialogue between Morgan and Gennaro. Geoffroy explained that the wording of the resolution allows the council to decide on a two or three council member representation and the council can vote whether to allow the mayor to attend meetings as the ex-officio member along with two council representatives depending on the given committee. The resolution “comes out sounding worse than it is,” she said.
Editor's Note: Bobbie Peer contributed to the reporting.