WEST ORANGE, NJ — Because residents were unable to provide public comment during last Saturday's budget hearing, several West Orange residents spoke out on behalf of Zoning Official Geniece Gary-Adams at Tuesday's West Orange Township Council meeting because she was one of several municipal employees who was not granted a $10,075 special salary request recommended by Mayor Robert Parisi.

Tammy Williams, Chairwoman of the Human Relations Commission (HRC), presented a statement on behalf of the commission which explained that since 2013, Gary-Adams had taken over the responsibilities of the town planning director after the director's "unanticipated departure."

The statement continued that Gary-Adams has not received an increase in seniority or compensation since taking on those expanded responsibilities, only receiving a $10,000 management stipend paid in two parts over the course of 2015 and 2016.

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'"Gary-Adams is a black female,"' Williams read. '"Given the presentation and unusual history here, the HRC is requesting an explanation of the basis for the unanimous vote of nay against the mayor's recommended increase in Gary-Adams' Salary."'

West Orange resident Solange Davis added that even though Gary-Adams does not hold the title of director, it is important that Gary-Adams is compensated fairly for the duty she fulfils, especially since also taking additional responsibilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

"My expectation as a resident of West Orange is that all township employees are treated fairly and that all salary decisions are made in an unbiased and equitable fashion," she said.

Unaware of a compensation disparity, all council members said that they based their decision to reject all special salary requests because of the township's property tax revenue shortfall as a result of the pandemic.

By extrapolating the $2.7 million shortfall calculated over the course of the first six months of this year, Councilman Joe Krakoviak explained that West Orange might have a shortfall of over $5 million over the course of the year.

He and other council members said that they were not looking at individual compensation levels when making the decision, but instead at West Orange as a whole because of a subset of the population who may still be out of work and not receiving any income. 

However, Council President Michelle Casalino mentioned even though employees did not get a special request, which are in addition to annual union-sanctioned salary increases, all municipal employees did get a three-percent salary increase.

Business Administrator John Sayers added salary raises recommended by Mayor Parisi are based on job function and additional responsibilities that an individual has during the year. In Gary-Adams’ case, her salary was previously raised by $10,000 around 1996 and was recommended by Mayor Parisi for another raise this year but was “knocked out.”

“This isn’t the first year that we’ve had hurt feelings by staff,” Casalino said continuing that the council sought to find a balance between protecting West Orange taxpayers and respecting municipal staff.

Casalino continued that even though the township’s employees have gone above and beyond, years’ worth of budget cuts have not been ameliorated by the COVID-19 crisis.

The council president promised that she will continue the conversation with her colleagues by looking at Gary-Adams’ and others job performances while they continue to work on the budget.

The budget was introduced for its first reading on Tuesday and is expected to be adopted on August 11.

The next virtual township council meeting will be on July 14 at 6:30 p.m.