On November 6, 2012, Salary Ordinance #12-01 was on the election ballot and 87% of Vernon voters; a record 9,136 - voted NO! N.J.S.A.40A:9-167 Referendum on ordinance fixing salaries, wages, or compensation – is the statute that was recognized by Vernon’s attorney as the statute that was applicable to this ballot question. The last sentence of this statute states – The referendum vote shall be binding during the period of two years following the vote. In other words, not until November 2014, could these salaries, wages, or compensation be re-visited or changed.
At the April 22, 2013 town council meeting, the mayor stated to the council, “We will continue the employee evaluation program that we began in 2012 for non-contractual employee merit, performance, bonus, payments and we will in fact continue the written performance and objectives set for each of those people and we will move forward in rewarding people for the job that they do.” Several questions arose from this statement. When did the council approve a policy for performance awards? What is the criteria for receiving a performance award?
Open Public Record Requests (OPRA) on these questions yielded the answers from Vernon’s municipal clerk, Sue Nelson. No policy exists and there is no criteria for performance awards. I know this administration isn’t fond of OPRA requests from the public, but the public has no other choice to get information that way, when a government is not transparent.
And so, to utter amazement, documents have been obtained that show Vernon’s mayor, on December 12, 2012, just 5 weeks after 9,136 Vernon voters – voted NO, gave thousands of dollars to each of nearly everyone on the ballot question- in one lump sum!
For instance, the business administrator, Jerry Giaimis- $5,000.00, the tax assessor, Lynn Schweighardt- $4,500.00, the recreation director, Missy Wiedbrauk- $4,500.00, the fire official, Dave Tynan- $3,000.00, and the municipal clerk, Sue Nelson- $4,500.00, to name a few, for a grand total of $66,000.00. If this is different than the ballot question issue, was the mayor giving raises and awards?
Ms. Nelson, Vernon’s municipal clerk, made an error on the ballot question which cost taxpayers $5,728.00 payable to the County clerk, plus legal fees for our town attorney. The she received a “performance award” of $4,500.00 just several weeks later. Her recent mistake disseminating 119 social security numbers, coupled with the mayor’s decisions, cost Vernon taxpayers approximately $150,000.00. How much of a “performance award” will she get this year, considering the mayor said he will continue the program?
I question the motives of a mayor who spends money without council approval. I question a council that continues to ignore their responsibilities and allows such actions. But more than anything, I and many others question the legality of this action. This council and mayor need to answer to the public and explain why this in NOT a slap in the face to Vernon voters and taxpayers and why this does NOT defy election law.
Former Vernon Mayor
President of the Vernon Taxpayers’ Association