Council issuing ‘Rice’ notice to administrator for Dec. 19 meeting

| 10 Dec 2018 | 02:56

By Ann Genader
WEST MILFORD – Township Administrator Antoinette Battaglia may be on the hot seat at the Dec. 19 Township Council meeting.
Township Councilman Luciano (Lou) Signorino asked for Battaglia to be issued the Rice Notice for the final meeting of the year in order to discuss her position and contract.
Battaglia is the current Township of West Milford Administrator, and also serves as township clerk.
According to the most recent public records, Battaglia earned $94,044 in 2016 as clerk.
Signorino did not mention her by name when he made the proposal during his report at the end of the Dec. 5 meeting, but he noted the position is now filled.
He said the notice was being made “for transparency purposes and to protect everyone’s rights” and he wanted “inclusive and proper discussion” relative to the administrative position.
A “Rice Notice” is a notification from a public body that it is going to discuss an individual’s employment at an upcoming meeting, including performance.
According to the current form of government in the township the Administrator is appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the council and serves for the term of the mayor.
Mayor Michele Dale is currently serving the unexpired term of former Democratic Mayor Bettina Bieri, who resigned in August.
Battaglia was appointed to the position by Bieri in January 2016 with a contract in effect until Dec. 31. 2019, which would have been the end of Bieri’s term.
Dale, a Republican, said she contacted former Mayor Bieri about the notice this weekend and Bieri told her that Signorino, who is the longest serving person presently on the dais, either does not understand the process he has participated in numerous times through the years or is playing a political game.
Signorino asked for the discussion to take place in executive session, but later said it could be held either way.
The council majority supported his request and Battaglia will be issued a “Rice” notice for the Dec. 19 council meeting.
Battaglia did not say this weekend if she will choose an executive session or have the discussion in public.
Township Attorney Fred Semrau suggested that the discussion be held over until January, as it would probably have to take place again then when the new council seated.
At that time, Dale could either continue with Battaglia for the year, or appoint her own choice for the position for the council to approve.
Dale will have to run for mayor again in 2019 to get a full term in the position.
Republicans Ada Erik and Marilyn Lichtenberg, who both served earlier council terms, will replace Tim Wagner and Michael Hensley on the council at the reorganization meeting.
Dale said she supported Semrau’s position, noting that she was not consulted about this matter by any sitting council members and was blindsided at her first meeting as mayor.
Dale said that after the meeting she reached out to Bieri who appointed Battaglia to the Administrator position with unanimous support from the council.
According to Dale, Bieri told her that she is “not surprised” by Signorino’s request and the council’s support of that request.
“Sadly, throughout my tenure, it was clear that certain elected officials would prefer an administrator that is complacent and who prioritizes the council’s personal demands or political agendas,” Dale quoted Bieri as saying. “Antoinette is not that person.”
Dale said she agreed with Bieri that this appears to be politically motivated and she believed voters sent a resounding message of support for Erik and Lichtenberg at the election polls and they should be involved in the discussions.
Signorino said he has been waiting for the discussion about the administrator job “for awhile” and wanted to proceed with it at the next council meeting.