SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- The Scotch Plains Township Council voted along party lines on a pay raise for Township Manager Al Mirabella on Tuesday evening. The discussion that preceded the vote was as unusual as it was awkward.
Despite the fact that the Democrats hold a 3-2 majority on the Council, votes frequently are unanimous by the governing body, whose members seem to genuinely get along. However, the debate over Mr. Mirabella's increase and whether it should be tied to the execution of a new contract became contentious between Mayor Al Smith (R) and Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo (D). Meanwhile, the discussion took place in a public forum with Mr. Mirabella sitting silently in his customary chair as his colleagues discussed his pay raise.
Mayor Smith expressed his desire to make the increase as part of a total compensation package that he says he has been working on with the Council for the past few weeks. Councilman Ted Spera, the other Republican on the governing body, said he had only seen the proposal the day before.
"I will be voting against this. I'm disappointed it's here. I don't see what the rush is," said Mayor Smith, who requested that a two-year contract be worked out over the next week. “I don't understand why we can't take a couple of more weeks to get it done.”
Councilman Spera said that the evening’s vote was a surprise and that some of his suggestions weren’t part of the contract.
“I think we all should have been involved in the process, and we weren't,” Spera said.
Deputy Mayor Losardo, who has been working with Mayor Smith on the contract, said he is “open to discussing the contract down the road” but that he was prepared to vote for the increase now. He also said that he had shared the information with Councilwoman Elizabeth Stamler and Councilman Roc White and that it was not his fault if Mayor Smith had not shared details with Mr. Spera at the same time.
“I woke up this morning and thought we had a deal. We put a contract together and have worked very hard on it,” Losardo said. “It's no secret that I tried to advocate an increase. I see the manager doing his job extremely well.”
Losardo added that the two percent increase that would bring the manager’s salary to $158,430 annually is “consistent what we've given everyone else” when the Township gave raises to municipal employees in the spring.
Mayor Smith made a motion to table the vote.
"This is just about the salary increase, not the contract," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Stamler.
"I felt comfortable voting for the contract. I don't think it would take that long to complete it. I just ask why can't we wait. Why don’t we just finish it," Mayor Smith asked. "I'm going to vote no.”
Councilmembers Losardo, Stamler, and White voted in favor of the increase. Mayor Smith and Councilman Spera voted no.
To view Tuesday's Council meeting, click here.
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