The Montclair Township Council oversaw a change of the guard by recognizing Tim Stafford as Acting Township Manager at its October 14 conference meeting, effective at 12:01 am , October 25.
Outgoing Township Manager Marc Dashield is taking accrued vacation time after his last day on the job this Friday (October 17),and a resolution was passed allowing Dashield to appoint him as personnel director and designate him as acting manager while on vacation. Township Attorney Ira Karasick read the resolution aloud for the council.
Stafford, who was present, told the council that he was looking forward to the challenges ahead, but he first had to overcome a challenge to his appointment be Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, who noted that the township didn’t make an effort to advertise the position and bypassed affirmative action opportunities. She was also displeased that Montclair was choosing another non-resident (Stafford lives in Cedar Grove) as a manager and didn’t give Montclair residents a chance. But Mayor Robert Jackson said that he was “delighted” with the appointment and was comfortable with the process in hiring him.
“Tim Stafford has strong qualifications and brings extensive experience managing municipalities to the position,” said Jackson. “He is the ideal person to help us continue improving our fiscal outlook, enacting our expanded communications efforts and enhancing the way we deliver services to our residents.”
Deputy Mayor Robert Russo said that the town was very lucky to have Stafford, given the compressed period they had to find someone quickly, and he added that he would have understood Dr. Baskerville’s perspective had the circumstances been different. Stafford’s appointment was confirmed, 6-1, with Dr, Baskerville casting the only dissenting vote.
Communications Advisory Committee
The bulk of the meeting was largely dominated by a presentation by the Communications Advisory Committee (CAC), which advises the council on TV34, Montclair’s public access channel. Sanford Sorkin, a frequent attendee of township council meetings, spoke on behalf of the CAC and addressed its concern that it is not fully included in issues regarding TV34 , and that it could have played more active role in helping the council hire a consultant and acquire radios. The CAC has also made suggestions for possible emergency communications messages that have not been utilized. The overall gist of Sorkin’s presentation was that the CAC should be more thoroughly integrated in the process of facilitating communications between township and residents, and that TV34 could be expanded to include more content going beyond message boards and public meetings, from shows about Montclair governance to shows focusing on local sports, arts and entertainment.
Sorkin’s biggest concern, though was the township’s purchase of software from PropertyPilot. The committee, Sorkin said, had tried repeatedly to help with the contract with PropertyPilot to get the product that the council paid for, and after one was signed, he was unsuccessful in finding any contract to review. None of the information Sorkin said he was able to look at involved a contract. He cited the particulars of the on-boarding process given to the township for the software: “PropertyPilot will meet with the Primary and Secondary Account Administrators as designated by you, to discuss goals and objectives.”
“Who are they?” he asked. “When will they meet? How will those people be able to give them the details and information that they need?”
Noting that the process also said that the firm would “gain an understanding of existing IT infrastructure and current data management and storage systems,” Sorkin said, “That says we’ve signed a contract with people that don’t know what they’re getting into! Do they plan to take our information and upload and transfer it to their systems? They don’t know what we have, how can the possibly commit to…actually completing the project? Who knows what it’s going to cost when it’s all done. But that’s not a contract!” The problem, he said, was that the agreement offered no deliverables and no actual statement of the work to be done.
“What I gleam from a lot of this is that the communications problem is mainly communications,” Deputy Mayor Russo said. He noted that the council, not the committee, shapes communications policy, and that key management decisions are ultimately made by the council, but he was eager to establish a more cooperative role between the CAC and the council going forward.
Also, Water Director Gary Obszarny met with the mayor and councilors about expanding water allocation and handling the legal water deficit Montclair has been facing. Irrespective of whether the Nishuane Well is developed, he said, Montclair is going to need to either purchase water at $402,960 a year (at $1,104 a day for a million gallons) or pay a one-time fee of $966,747 to buy into the Wanaque South reservoir. Dr. Baskerville asked if this expanded allocation would enable and supply future development, but Obszarny said he’d have to wait to see what the master plan entails before he could answer that question. It would, though, cover the developments currently planned or under construction. Both First Ward Councilor William Hurlock and Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller said they wanted to look more at the figures to consider the cost-effectiveness of either option.
Dashield said that an interim measure was needed to achieve desired water capacity, and that the purchase into the system would provide permanent allocation. “That does not preclude you from still doing the well,” he said, “because as we’ve talked about before, when we were looking at water management, we need to have as [many] resources as we can because we don’t know what’s happening in the future.”
Obszarny also covered rates, which have not gone up since 2011. Currently at $31 per 7,480 gallons, the rate would go up one dollar per year through 2017, according to Obszarny’s proposal. The increase would help cover the costs of extra water and infrastructural improvements. He is also looking at using higher rates to encourage water conservation in the spring and summer months and help residents cut their own costs.
Montclair Animal Shelter
Also, progress on the animal shelter is moving ahead, with Dashield reporting that air conditioning and heating system installation should be completed in a couple of weeks, and that the township is working with the Montclair Animal Welfare Advisory Committee over the exterior repairs. Mayor Jackson added that architect Karen Brinkman submitted a proposal for the architectural aspects.
New Police vehicles
Meanwhile, Police Chief David Sabagh told the council that he was looking to buy Ford police interceptor crossover vehicles, which he said officers found to be roomier and more durable than the Dodge police cars the police department has been using have not been holding up well. When Councilor Spiller asked about the cost difference between the crossovers (which Chief Sabagh confusingly called “hybrids”), and a standard Ford Taurus interceptor sedan, the chief said he’d have to look into it. A vote on a resolution authorizing the acquisition for first payment of a two-year lease of four crossover vehicles was postponed pending Sabagh’s findings.