SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Former Business Administrator Ziad Shehady approached the Township Committee Tuesday night announcing he will continue on as a self-proclaimed ‘Government Watchdog’ in the spirit of those before him like Sandy Wenger; a town resident who used to come to every meeting and question agenda items (keeping everyone “honest”, so to speak). He insisted that his civil participation should not be construed as “sour grapes.”
Shehady then questioned why minutes and agendas for the last five meetings have not been posted on the township website. He suggested that items should not be added onto the meeting agendas at the last minute, as has been done on more than one occasion, so members can have more than two or three hours for review before having to vote on it. He suggested a way for the Township to save money on a special program for infrastructure upgrades, rather than utilizing a bond. The Committee was questioned on this but were not aware of the details. Regardless, the ordinance to utilize the bond was passed with a 4 to 1 vote; with Maria Vassallo being the sole dissenting vote.
Mr. Shehady along with Republican candidate Jerry Fernandez and resident Leroy Lewis all questioned the process being undertaken by the Committee to fill the open Township’s Business Administrator (BA) position. One point of contention was an ordinance that allowed ”up to $35,000” to be paid to a temporary BA for the balance of 2018, if needed. Even if this full amount was used, the full year’s expenditures will still likely be less than the BA’s annual salary if he was employed for the full year.
Committewoman Vassallo took exception to this, wondering why it was even necessary to have this ordinance since it was promised that the search would not cost the town any additional money, and it had been announced that Chief Cook, the Acting BA, would not be given any additional compensation for the job. This ordinance, including compensation for other Township employees passed 4 to 1, again with Vassallo again being the lone dissenting vote.
Regarding the search itself, there were concerns that the Committee was not being transparent with their strategy. Mayor Huber indicated that there will be a search but the details cannot be discussed in open session. He did say, however, that a decision on the process has not yet been determined, will likely include both an internal and external search, and there is no timeline set. The Mayor concluded with, “We will research all the evidence.”
Another topic of discussion was the Planning Board’s request for authorization to have the Planner put together an analysis of best uses for the Sakes Fifth Ave. site. The concern was that the town was “putting the cart before the horse”, ordering a study before getting input from the property owner. Engineer Sam Mardini explained that once the analysis is completed, it should be a useful tool in helping us to work with the owner – perhaps making it easier for a sale if the property were rezoned. It could also tell us if it were to make sense to include the area into the Redevelopment Zone. At that point, the discussion will need to be had with Millburn to see if they agree with the best uses or future potential. Mayor Huber said the Planner has a set annual budget to work under, and it would be their responsibility to plan accordingly and stay within the given annual budget. This resolution was passed, once again, with Maria Vassallo being the sole dissenting vote.
Additional article on the Township Committee meeting: