Administrator replacement battle continues


Township Attorney Fred Semrau addresses Mayor Michele Dale and Township Council members about their roles and responsibilities during Wednesday night's meeting. Charles kim photo

WEST MILFORD – Some Township Council members and Mayor Michele Dale are still at odds over filling the township administrator vacancy.
The division was apparent once again during Wednesday night’s Township Council meeting as the governing body introduced a salary ordinance for the position and eventually agreed with Dale to run a smaller help wanted ad for the position.
The administrator’s position has been vacant since Dec. 19 when that council voted 5-1 to terminate Township Clerk Antoinette Battaglia’s dual role in the position, which paid an annual stipend of $38,000.
Dale, who won a one-year unexpired term as mayor in November, tried to get the council to pass a salary ordinance for the new, full time position during the next several meetings, but members decided to take a survey of what other towns were paying before taking up the issue.
That discussion finally took place last month and was scheduled to have the ordinance with a salary range of $45,000-$130,000 up for introduction, but that meeting was canceled due to a snowstorm.
Also last month, council members Lou Signorino, Andie Pegel, Patricia Gerst and Council President Peter McGuinness, voted to run an advertisement for the vacancy authored by Pegel instead of allowing Dale to handle it.
Councilwomen Marilyn Lichtenberg and Ada Erik voted against using Pegel’s ad.
While instituting the council’s vote, however, it was brought to Dale’s attention that the advertisement Pegel wrote would cost the township about $4,000 to run in the newspaper, Dale said.
“I was not about to authorize that expense,” Dale said.
As the council voted 5-1 Wednesday night to approve the salary ordinance’s introduction, it also agreed to use a less expensive help wanted ad that had been used in the past for between $500-$800 instead.
Dale said she would run that ad as soon as possible.
Those discussions were not the only time the administrator issue came up during the meeting.
Early on, Township Attorney Fred Semrau issued a statement to the governing body outlining the roles of each branch under the form of government.
He said that under this form, Dale was in charge of the day-to-day operations and the council was responsible for legislative and budgetary actions.
He cited a 2002 case in South Brunswick Township where a councilman asked for information from former Township Manager Barbara Capmbell.
Campbell complained to the state that the councilman could not, under state law, direct her to “do work.”
The state found for Campbell and said that only a majority of the council, speaking through the mayor, could direct township employees.
Semrau said that both branches of government have to work together and observe that line between the duties that each perform.
Following that discussion, later on during the meeting, Councilman Lou Signorino asked if a consulting firm, presently doing budget work for the township, could provide additional services during the absence of the administrator.
Dale asked Signorino, who is challenging her for the Republican nomination for mayor in this year’s election, what was lacking in services since Battaglia was let go.
Signorino did not give any examples, but said that he just wanted to know if the firm could provide any help.
The salary ordinance will come up for a public hearing and final vote on March 20 and take effect 20 days later if approved.