Council OKs plan for full-time mayor

WEST MILFORD. More than 850 residents sign petition opposing the ordinances.

| 22 Mar 2024 | 03:22

The Township Council approved two ordinances to permit council members to determine if the mayor is full- or part-time each year and setting the salary for a full-time mayor at its meeting Wednesday, March 20.

The second ordinance sets the salary range for a full-time mayor at $90,000 to $135,000 plus benefits and pension.

Council president Marilyn Lichtenberg was the only no vote on the first ordinance. The vote on the second ordinance was unanimous.

”I feel Michele Dale is the best mayor we’ve ever had. And I do have the highest regard for all our former mayors and council members. But if we’re voting on it tonight, I have to consider the total future of our township and I cannot support this ordinance as currently written,” she said regarding the first ordinance.

During public comments before the votes, Melissa Brown Blaeuer, who ran for mayor as a Democrat in November, presented a petition signed by 852 residents opposing the two ordinances.

“The signers of this petition have true patriotism and courage to stand up to overreach and political abuse. They all agree this is wrong to change the form of government and our chief executive office without a referendum,” she said. “They want a referendum for any major change like this.”

Blaeuer pointed out that residents chose to change the form of township government in 2002 to one with an independently elected mayor. ”The proposed ordinances make the mayor dependent on the council and negate the principle of a strong and independent executive branch.”

She said the ordinances would not have been proposed if Mayor Michele Dale had not lost her job in November. ”The reasons for changing the law seem to be for the benefit of the current sitting mayor and not in the best interests of the citizens and taxpayers of West Milford.”

In her comments, Dale denied that she is having financial problems, saying she has more than $600,000 available to her. She showed screenshots of her personal bank account and investment portfolios, adding, “And that doesn’t include my real estate holdings.”

She pointed out that the Faulkner Act, which West Milford adopted in 2002, “says nothing about full-time or part-time” status of the mayor.

She also said West Milford’s current form of government is that of a weak mayor, who needs the advice and consent of the council to make appointments and shift funds. The mayor also is required to enforce laws approved by the council, she noted.

In response to suggestions that a full-time clerk be hired to give Township Administrator Bill Senande more time to handle West Milford’s business, Dale said that is not possible because Senande, who also serves as the township clerk, is tenured as the clerk. “That was thought about. That can’t happen.”