Stipends, Title Changes for Board Voted Down by South Orange Trustees

South Orange Trustees Howard Levison, Mark Rosner (seated, from left) and Walter Clarke (not pictured) said they would not support stipends for trustees and the village president. Credits: Amy Kiste Nyberg

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The Board of Trustees voted 5-0 on Monday night to eliminate stipends and title changes from a revised village charter that would be sent to the state Legislature for its approval if it is adopted by the board in January.

Although Trustees Sheena Collum and Deborah Davis Ford said they would support a charter revision that included those controversial provisions, Trustees Walter Clarke, Howard Levison and Mark Rosner said they did not approve of stipends for the board and the village president. Trustee Steve Schnall was absent.

When it became clear the revised charter would not pass as introduced, the board voted to strike its original ordinance and introduced a substitute without the two amendments.  

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Audience members, many of whom spoke against the stipends during public comments, applauded the action.

During the public comments, resident Martin Bearg said, “Giving stipends will increase our taxes.” Arthur Young noted that volunteerism is part of public service and if volunteers wanted to get paid, “that would be a negative.”

Former Trustee Michael Goldberg also weighed in on the charter changes. “Our taxes are already beyond acceptable,” he said in outlining several reasons why he opposed the stipends. “You need to find a way to reduce the budget.” He also noted that while he was in office there were no mandatory expenses involved in serving on the board.

Before the vote, Collum and Village President Alex Torpey tried one last time to persuade board members to support a measure that would have provided trustees with an $1,800 a year stipend and the village president with a $2,400 stipend.

“The voters spoke to us,” Collum said. “I’d like to support the things that were approved by the voters.”

Torpey, who is only allowed a vote to break a tie, said, “There is a much larger group of people other than the people who are in the room tonight … who asked us to make these changes,” referring to the referendum. He also said he felt a “moral” obligation to ensure people don’t have to “pay out of pocket” in order to be a public official.

Levison said that the referendum was simply intended to be “a piece of information to make an informed decision.” He pointed out that the board is a representative form of government. “We don’t make decisions based on polls or referendums,” he said.

In addressing the cost of holding public office, Clarke said that he thought the expense of a campaign is also a financial hurdle. “I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said, adding that he did not want to see needed changes to the charter derailed by the controversial provisions.

The Charter Review Committee began its work in 2009. In November 2011, voters were asked whether they supported the stipends, the title changes, and dropping “township” from the village’s name in a nonbinding referendum. All three passed, with the stipend issue winning approval by the smallest margin.

A public hearing on the charter revisions has been scheduled for the Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 27.

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