PATERSON, NJ – The Paterson Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) was unable to hold its monthly meeting on Monday because not enough members showed up.
Just two of the agency’s commissioners – chairman Erik Lowe and Kenneth Simmons – attended, leaving the authority one member short of a quorum, the minimum number of three to hold an official meeting.
One of the board’s seats became vacant this spring when Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter resigned. The two members who were missing were Obed Rodriguez and Charles Pettiford, whom the city council fired last month from his $90,000 city job as Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ chief of staff.
The inability to reach a quorum comes at pivotal time for the MUA. The agency is on the verge of hiring its first executive director.
Lowe had said at the board's April meeting that the agency had narrowed the field down from 10 applicants to two finalists for the $50,000 to $60,000 job to supervise the authority, which has a $360,200 annual budget and almost $1 million in the bank.
Earlier this spring, Lowe had said the agency planned to hire its director in June. But the June meeting - a three-minute session – came and went without anyone being hired and with no explanation for the delay. "We had to postpone that," Lowe said at the time.
Lowe had little to say after cancelling this week's meeting at 6:05, and would not confirm whether or not the hiring of the director was on the agenda for the meeting. In fact, he did not make available to the public the proposed agenda for the canceled meeting.
The MUA has come under relentless criticism from city activist David Gilmore, whose Let’s Save Paterson Facebook page has been gaining popularity. Gilmore showed up for the non-meeting on Monday and said he was not surprised the board could not meet the quorum requirement, adding the unusual pattern of delayed, hurried, and cancelled meetings was suspicious.
"Whether it be by design or not, it's very suspect. All we are looking for is policies and procedures," Gilmore said.
Gilmore first raised concerns at the MUA when he criticized the board's decision last year to give $5,000 to an education program run by St. Luke's Church, where Lowe and Sumter were part of the congregation. The money was donated without any announcement that it was available and without a competitive process for dispensing it.
The authority's board has committed to devising a policy where interested organizations can apply for grants from the authority's budget. But the board's attorney, Bruce Ackerman, has said there is "no timeframe" for the development or implementation of the policy.
Meanwhile, there’s been no indication of when Sumter’s seat on the MUA would be filled. Jones could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
“You’ll have to talk to the mayor about that,’’ Lowe said. “I’m not involved in his decision-making process.’’