Full-time mayor proposed

WEST MILFORD. Dale says she has not been offered the position, which would pay between $90,000 and $135,000 a year.

| 21 Feb 2024 | 06:01

A proposed ordinance to allow the Township Council to decide each year whether to have a full- or part-time mayor was introduced at the council’s meeting Feb. 14.

Another proposed ordinance would set the salary of a full-time mayor at $90,000 to $135,000 a year.

Public hearings and final votes on the ordinances are set for March 20.

During public comments, several residents expressed opposition to the plan.

Renee Allessio, a 46-year resident, said a township like West Milford, with a population of about 26,000, does not need a full-time mayor with a big salary.

If the administrator/clerk needs help, a part-time deputy administrator should be hired, she said.

The median household income in West Milford is about $75,000, she pointed out. “Should our mayor make more than what the average resident of West Milford makes?”

Allessio said township residents voted in 2002 to adopt a partisan form of government with a part-time mayor and council, and Mayor Michele Dale ran on that basis in November. “Changing the status of the mayor from part-time to full-time shouldn’t be up to the council to decide every year as per this proposed ordinance.”

She suggested that residents should vote in a referendum on such a change.

Tim LaPointe, a 58-year resident who works in construction, said West Milford never has had a paid full-time mayor. “If the administrator can’t handle the load, you need to look there because every other administrator could.”

On another topic, LaPointe said officials need to reconsider a plan to restructure the township Health Department.

”You are getting rid of one of the most consummate professionals in the state of New Jersey. ... Ms. (Sue) Muhaw is one of the best at her business ever. ... You need to rethink this.”

Laura Ashtyani of Newfoundland said residents should vote on a change to a full-time mayor. She asked what has changed that requires the mayor to be full time.

”It seems like the salary is a bit higher than what other mayors make for a similar town setting,” she added.

Resident James Foody said William Senande should not be both township administrator and township clerk. If deputy clerk Diane Curcio has the proper credentials, she should be made township clerk, he suggested, and if Senande needs more help, a deputy administrator could be hired.

‘Above and beyond’

Councilman Matthew Conlon said the proposal for a full-time mayor is unrelated to Dale’s employment status.

He praised her work, noting that when West Milford did not have an administrator, “she stepped in and did the job of administrator for over a year for $11,000.” ”She learned how to run the township day to day.”

Since then, she has answered residents’ questions on many topics, negotiated shared services agreements and renegotiated grants, he said.

Because West Milford is financially solvent and has the capacity to do big projects, the amount of work is overwhelming, Conlon said. ”We have major projects that are coming down the pike that are not going to get attention. ...

”We have an opportunity to put somebody in who can hit the ground running on day one and handle the things that we need to handle.”

Regarding a plan for the county Health Department to take over the township’s Health Department, he said current township employees likely will continue doing the same jobs under county control.

”To prejudge anything at this point I think is both premature and inappropriate.”

West Milford has a shared services agreement with the county that benefits the township financially and logistically, he said.

Hope she says yes

Councilman Dave Marsden said he hopes Dale would accept the job “because if she doesn’t, we’re in trouble.”

If new employees are hired, they need to be trained, he pointed out. “She knows what she’s doing already. That’s going to save us, not hurt us.”

Councilwoman Ada Erik said council members have discussed the questions that residents raised. “We’ve looked at the facts and the figures. .. I too hope she says yes.”

Addressing residents, Councilman Michael Chazukow said, “Should the mayor accept this position, she will be working for you. I think that we need somebody working for us.”

He expects a full-time mayor’s job to attract many candidates. “I don’t think we’re going to find anyone better for the municipality than Mayor Michele Dale. But if there were competition, that could only be good for the residents.”

Councilwoman Marilyn Lichtenberg said she supports the concept of a full-time mayor. “This mayor has done a great job for us.”

Council President Kevin Goodsir said that if a full-time mayor is not approved, West Milford would have to hire a deputy administrator who likely would make the same salary and would need training and probably would not stay in the job long.

Dale said she has not been offered the job.

The council also approved ordinances:

• Setting compensation for special police officers and municipal court attendants.

• Setting rates that third parties who hire police officers will pay.

• Setting membership fees for Bubbling Springs. A family membership will cost $275 for residents and $375 for nonresidents.