Council majority nixes mayor’s appointments

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WEST MILFORD – Four of the six Township Council members voted down a series of appointments by Mayor Michele Dale Wednesday night.

The move came when two lists of items that were not approved, or tabled during the council’s reorganization meeting returned for a vote.

The council approved most of the two lists, but voted down four items that included naming Township Clerk, and former administrator Antoinette Battaglia as a commissioner for the Joint Insurance Fund, health insurance cooperative, public agency compliance officer and NJSEM commissioner.

These are positions that Battaglia has previously been appointed to in the last several years in her capacity as clerk.

Dale said the purpose of the positions are to ensure those agencies have a day-to-day contact with the township that has the authority to sign documents and such.

Dale said she is concerned that not approving the appointments, which did include other individuals besides Battaglia, could interfere with the operation of the township.

Council President Peter McGuinness, councilmen Lou Signorino, Andie Pegel and Patricia Gerst voted against the appointments.

The function of those appointments now falls to Dale, as does administrator responsibilities until someone new is hired.

These are the same four council members that voted, along with outgoing Council President Tim Wagner, to terminate Battaglia’s $38,000 a year role as administrator on Dec. 19.

Members of the public speaking during the meeting continued to ask the council why they were taking these actions and if those actions were an attempt to hamstring the mayor.

“You left the mayor hanging out to dry,” resident Richard Randazzo said.

Dale took office at the end of November following a special election to replace Democrat Bettina Bieri who resigned from the post after 12 years as mayor.

Dale, a Republican, will have to run for the position again this year to get a full term.

It is not yet clear if she will be opposed in the June primary.

She defeated Republican turned Independent Wagner, and Democrat Chris Garcia for the one-year partial term in November.

Since taking office, Dale has seemingly run up against the majority of council members, starting with Battaglia’s ouster on Dec. 19.

Battaglia is getting three months of the administrator’s stipend and remains as clerk, according to that December resolution passed by the council 5-1.

Member of the public expressed concerns that now the town will end up paying someone much more than the $38,000 or so Battaglia was getting and why the council made that move in light of the financial benefit the dual role had.

Councilman Signorino said in December that the move was being made because the township of around 27,000 people “deserved” a full time administrator.

During a subsequent meeting, however, after Dale asked the council to discuss a salary range and new ordinance to fund the full time position, the same four council members refused to discuss it.

Dale said Wednesday night that before anyone could be offered the job, providing they went through the interview process successfully, they would have to wait as much as 60 days before knowing what the township would be willing to pay them.

An ordinance must be discussed, crafted by the town attorney, introduced, heard before the public and then adopted.

It does not go into effect until a month after that point.

Dale said she wasn’t advertising for the position until the salary question was decided because she didn’t feel it was fair to the applicants.

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