Residents level variety of charges against Council

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    WEST MILFORD - Accusations pounded council members at the May 5 meeting and public hearing. Residents of the township accused council members of everything from lying to them, holding back information, and frivolous spending to having their own separate agenda, and moving the town backwards. Outbursts by some in attendance caused Mayor Joseph Di Donato to call for the presence of a police officer, but that did not deter the public from speaking its mind on a wide-range of subjects. Mayor and township attorney William De Marco and soft-spoken acting township administrator Kevin Byrnes often repeated themselves throughout the course of the night, echoing each other's answers to the town members' questions. Some say that without this redundancy, the time it took for the discussion could have been cut in half. Few people left the overcrowded and overheated room happy. That group was a contingency from Mt. Glen Lake, who got a resolution authorizing the township to co-sign a loan in connection with restoration and rehabilitation of a dam. Unlike a resolution passed by the council for dam rehabilitation of Gordon Lakes, which will cost $800,000, the Mt. Glen Lake resolution was passed without knowing the cost of the project. AT the beginning of the meeting, Councilwoman Patricia Lotz-Moore broke with tradition and voted "no" on a motion to approve the minutes of meetings that went as far back as November 2003, saying she could not approve minutes of meetings she had not attended. The first no vote might have been seen as a sign of things to come, as other members of the usually partisan council voted against two resolutions; one for an office transition zone ordinance, and one that would enforce a residential floor area ratio (FAR) that would restrict homeowners on the size of additions. The night also marked the first time the mayor had to cast a deciding vote to break the three-to-three tie votes of his council over the controversial ordinance to reinstate fees for copies of public documents. Disregarding the objections made by residents, the mayor voted to pass the ordinance. Another sore spot for residents was a resolution for an agreement to use the legal services of Arthur Timmons, at an hourly rate of $105, to help with foreclosures on properties in the town, which De Marco says are too many for him to handle. It's a move that some townspeople view as inappropriate, because Timmons is the president of the West Milford Republican Club, and (they say), he donated money towards the election of the sitting council. The public hearing part about the 2004 budget, which Mayor Di Donato said would not be passed that night, seemed to be a moot point, as residents were told the numbers would be amended and another public hearing would be held when the budget would be passed. The $27-million budget has a capital increase of 79 percent because the council has decided to shift to the pay-as-you-go plan that was used in the 90's. The new plan will cost more for taxpayers but says Byrnes, "We are trying to get out of the credit card approach" that will have the township paying cash for capital items. The budget also shows a 13-percent increase in health benefits for township employees. When the matter of the budget surplus was brought up by a township resident who asked about the sale of the redevelopment zone to the state the council had nixed, it was confirmed that if the town had gone ahead with the sale, the money would have come into the budget as revenue. When Byrnes, who is also the town clerk, was asked to reveal his salary to the public, he did not give a straight answer. During the public portion of the meeting, the subject was brought up again by Diana Romero of West Milford, who asked Byrnes straight out, "What is approximately? Can you give us a straight answer?" She also wanted to know if the council, which previously said it was looking at resumes and was going to conduct interviews in order to hire a township administrator, is doing so, or "Is this just a joke?" Romero also questioned the council about the hiring of Timmons. "Is the interest of public perception on your agenda," she asked, "or are you just going to remain arrogant?"