"Rough" town code finally approved

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    WEST MILFORD-Some residents will say it's flawed; some will say it's illegal. Township officials see nothing wrong with it. However one perceives it, the newly approved town Administrative Code is a highly controversial issue for West Milford. It was a long time coming but on Sept. 1, nine months after the council took office, and five months overdue, council members voted to adopt the new code after conducting business without legal authority for many months due to failure to promptly revise and approve the code. The vote was three to two with Councilman Dennis Kirwan abstaining. Councilwoman Patricia Lotze-Moore and Council President William Gervens cast the two no votes. No document was posted for the public to view (the usual procedure for passing ordinances and resolutions). Anyone who wishes to see the document in its entirety will have to go to the township Website to do so. There one will find the revised code still in its raw state with strike-outs, write-overs, deletions and additions which, some say, are cause for confusion. Most residents' objections were about the council failing to address concerns presented to officials during the first public hearing held in June. One issue is the compensation to council members. James Warden, one of two democratic candidates vying for a council seat in November, brought the subject up at the Wednesday meeting. Warden asked council members where the recommendations came from as far as salary, but received no answer. Warden noted he "has a very high regard for Bill Gervens and the level of his integrity because he knew that this administrative code was not ready to be passed." The first revision of the code, submitted to the public in June, had the council and mayor's salary of $3,500 crossed out and replaced with an increase to $7,500, which caused a public outcry. At the public hearing officials stated they would not be taking a salary increase but they never changed it in the code. The new revision does not mention a specific amount but says "the salary of the mayor and council shall be by ordinance from time to time" which, according to Warden leaves the salary issue open-ended. During the months of waiting for the code to be revised, another political opponent, Bob Nolan, brought up the line-of-duty widows' pension issue which allows for an annual pension of $5,000 for the widow of a firefighter, and the amount of $55,000 annually to the widow of a first aid or rescue squad member. At a previous meeting, Township Attorney, William DeMarco, stated he had checked into the matter but there was nothing that could be done about it. On Wednesday night DeMarco stated changes would be made to correct the discrepancy but it has yet to be changed in the code. On the other side Councilman Paul Bailey said: ‘I am glad we finally passed a workable Municipal Code. One that while having a legacy of miss-spellings and miss-prints is nevertheless a document that, at least as far as the sections we worked on, is an accurate representation of the government of West Milford. In a way it is poetic that it is not perfect, neither is West Milford, yet we love her just the same.'" He added that: "It makes little logical sense to re-publish a 200-plus page document for such a fluid thing as employees pay rates. It belongs in a more portable instrument, a separate ordinance. The same thing with the emergency workers pension language. Somebody back then thought it was wise to put actual numbers in the administrative code. However, statute sets the real amount and we, by law, must be in conformance. We dropped that language as well, and now reference the higher power in Trenton.'" Municipal Codes are governed by New Jersey Statutes. The state requires that major provisions of the municipal charter and any applicable general laws be restated in the new code. The change in government which took place on January 1, 2004 necessitated changes to the township code to reflect the new government.