The Township Council voted 5-0 on April 28 to fire the township manager. Reaction?
Very glad he was ousted. Should’ve happened months ago. Good that the decision was unanimous. So, my reaction was multiple — like the number of lawsuits filed against the manager.
Yup, separately sued by two women who accused him of creating a hostile workplace and later jointly sued by two Black firefighters who accused him of helping to rig a promotion exam to favor white candidates.
Any Progressive’s Nightmare
That explains his induction into the Gets Sued A Lot Hall of Fame. Wonder if he showed up to give a speech.
The now-former manager certainly didn’t show up for the April 28 hearing. Rather telling, don’t you think?
Not Brave New World
Indeed. He’s also unlikely to appear in a movie remake of “Captains Courageous.”
Why was the vote 5-0 rather than 7-0?
Because the mayor and deputy mayor were not there on April 28. Also absent was Rufus T. Firefly, the fictional president of the fictional Freedonia in The Marx Brothers film “Duck Soup.”
Groucho says the cinematic references are being overdone. Is the fired manager getting a monetary settlement on top of what he was contractually owed?
No, stated the township attorney at the April 28 meeting, who added that the manager might take legal action. That would get said manager into the Doesn’t Have a Leg to Stand on Hall of Fame.
In addition to being sued multiple times, the manager was in charge when Montclair got fleeced in its renewal of fire services to Glen Ridge, when there was a long delay in opening the Midtown parking deck, when two municipal pools were closed all of last summer, etc.
Mess Is More
Clearly, a multiply problematic job history. But Montclair was never invaded by “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” during his tenure, so that’s something.
ANOTHER movie reference? And dozens of residents criticized the manager at Township Council meetings over the past few months while I’m aware of only one person who publicly defended him.
Montclair is now hoping for a much better township manager who’s a much better fit for our town — whether that person ends up being a man, woman, or fictional film character.
Should another major Montclair official be removed?
Days of Future Asked
There certainly needs to be an investigation of the fire chief, who was also sued by the two Black firefighters. Possibly aiding the inquiry could be the very ethical Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Why do you keep mentioning fictional characters?
Because what’s been happening in our town is stranger than fiction.
Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.
I wonder if the CFO was invited to preview the presentation to the Finance Committee before Monday’s hastily arranged Budget presentation to the public…or if the Township’s Motion for an order of protection prevented it.
I also wonder why no public comment is part of the agenda.
Oh, FYI, the over/under line on the number of times people call the CFO by her first name is 26.
Great column, Dave. You find fun in language but you write about serious topics. When I read the headline that mentions residents’ “expired patience”, Eileen Birmingham came to my mind. For months on end, meeting after meeting, she patiently brought to Council’s attention glaring mismanagement of the fire department under Chief Herrmann and pleaded with them to take action. Gradually, many others joined her efforts, to no avail. The Council continued to look the other way thus enabling Herrmann to practice nepotism and discrimination and sticking the Town with the horrible Glen Ridge fire deal for fifteen (!) years.
I had to laugh at the September 28 meeting when Herrmann said that Stafford was “dedicated, professional, supportive and, most of all, honest.” Then he said: “Thank you for all you do for us.” Oh, Stafford did quite a bit for Herrmann, not so much for the CFO and other female employees. Of course Herrmann is siding with Stafford because Stafford facilitated his son’s promotion. Two buddies from Cedar Grove scratching each others’ backs at the expense of Montclair’s black firefighters and the taxapayers.
Here’s the link to the September 28, 2022 council meeting. (minute mark: 2:57:10)
Thank you for the comment, Frank. Sorry for the delayed response; I was away. Your mention of the CFO reminds me that I, like many others in Montclair, are grateful that she had the courage to sue the now-former township manager — which started the ball rolling for his deserved removal. Wish more Montclair officials had made the manager’s behavior public before the suit happened.
Thanks Dave for your reply. If there ever was a session that lended itself to call-in questions, this is it.
This is not a Council choice, BTW.
This is the Acting Township Manager’s choice not to allow remote public comment.
I agree, Frank. Public comment — in-person and remote — should always be allowed.
Thank you, discipulus, for the kind words and for your excellent thoughts about other matters! It always irks me when problematic public officials praise each other for being ethical, skilled, etc. — when they clearly aren’t. Happens way too much. As you note, problematic public officials are often most concerned with helping other bigwigs do less-than-savory things while not caring much, or at all, about most of their constituents — or about doing a good job. On the other hand, I have so much respect for people like Eileen Birmingham who ARE ethical and skilled and try to nudge public officials to do the right thing.
Frank, I’m wondering why you believe that the (Acting) Manager decides whether remote public comment will be allowed at a Council meeting? As I understand it, the Council decides how the meeting is conducted, consistent with law, of course. If a decision needs to made between meetings, the Mayor as presiding officer will make that call, subject to being modified or overruled when the Council meeting begins. The NJ Open Public Meetings Act requires municipal governing bodies (here, the Council) to set aside a portion of every meeting for public comment. How public comment is organized, and whatever reasonable limitations are imposed (e.g. time limits) are solely the Council’s prerogative. When the meeting itself is remote, then remote public comment is a must, but if the meeting is in person, and fully open to the public, then I don’t think there is any legal requirement to hold a “hybrid” meeting that permits remote comment. Only the Council can choose to do so.
Why do you think it is being hosted by the Council?
I am not sure this meeting is subject to OPMA. Some are calling it a Workshop, the calendar says it is just a presentation.
Oh, I misunderstood. I thought this was about a Council meeting. The budget workshop would not be subject to OPMA unless a quorum (4) of the Council were there. And yes, the Manager could allow public questions or input, in-person, remote or both, though that wouldn’t be required.
Ira: I have to say I’m glad to see you “came back”. You are missed by many. It’s great to have someone familiar with local laws and our town hall answer our questions in a clear, coherent, and comprehensive way! Can’t get a fraction of that from the current town attorney. Sigh.
I agree 100%. Welcome back, Ira. You’re the man as far as local/State law goes. I hear you moved away and are happy, but we need still need you here in Montclair. You’re a fixture.
Question to Ira: can Acting Manager Scantlebury throw out the rigged fire exam at this point?
Thank you for the comments, Ira, Scriberman, and Calvin!
Calvin, it would be GREAT if that rigged fire exam could be tossed.
In my view, John Herrmann should be dismissed.
Despite the kind words for me expressed above, I don’t think that there is a easy answer to the question of whether the Acting Manager (I’ll just call Brian the Manager) can invalidate the results of the recent promotional exam. Or to put it more accurately, the simple answer is yes, the appointing authority (statutory title which belongs to the Manager in our form of government) can “throw out” the exam results for good cause. It’s difficult for an outsider (me) to confidently opine on this, especially without a bit of research. Still, it’s apparent to me that multiple considerations affect the wisdom and possibly the authority of a unilateral decision by the Manager to do so. First and foremost, there is currently litigation challenging the exam, which would be impacted by any action that the Manager takes. Moreover, the candidates who came out on top would possibly go the lawsuit route as well. Second, I haven’t seen the results and reports of whatever investigations were undertaken by the Township or its agents, which could be probative. Third, I haven’t looked at the CNAs (collective negotiation agreements) between the Township and the firefighters’ and the fire superiors’ unions, so I don’t know if they address the subject of promotions or promotional exams. In either case, the unions would probably be very interested in this issue, though I don’t know where they would come out. Fourth, while all this is going on, the Manager has to be sure that the Fire Department is carrying on its work and functioning efficiently. Lawsuits and rancorous allegations, whether true or not, can corrode good will very quickly. And I’m sure there is much more to look at if I was still in my former position. But I’m not, and I don’t want to second guess what’s being done now, except to say that no action can be the most destructive of all.
Calvin, I agree that the fire chief should be dismissed. Two obvious reasons: his being sued by Black firefighters over that rigged promotion exam, and Montclair getting severely underpaid for fire services in that pathetic renewed deal with Glen Ridge.
Thank you, Ira, for a thoughtful, well-reasoned reply. The Township should start paying you for educating the public. Although, get to think about it, they probably prefer to keep us in the dark. The less we know, the less we are able to call them on their shenanigans. Thanks again. Hats off to you for volunteering your time.
Hold on a second, Dave. How is the Fire Chief to blame for the Glen Ridge fire contract? The decision to bid and the amount of the bid were made by the Council. The Council knew going in that the amount of the bid wasn’t fair and wouldn’t cover our actual costs, but they concluded that it was better to get the bid amount than to run any risk of getting zero. Council members who are running for reelection (or higher office) had better be ready to answer tough questions about that decision, but as I’ve opined before on this site, I think the decision is defensible given the information available to them at the time. Obviously, had they known for sure that Bloomfield wasn’t going to bid, they would have had Glen Ridge over a barrel, but they didn’t and lawfully couldn’t have known that.
What I really fault the Council for is trying to gaslight the public into thinking that the bid represented some kind of “win-win,” when it plainly wasn’t. Using FEMA reimbursement rates for mutual aid response to support this false argument was particularly risible. If you want to fault Chief Herrmann for playing along with that game and providing the data, fine, but personally I don’t blame him for providing data at the request of his boss.
I don’t know Chief Herrmann well. I met with him a couple of times when I chaired the Capital Finance Advisory Committee and have had a few conversations with him since. I don’t know the facts of the lawsuit over the promotional exam, and if the facts establish that he personally engaged in wrongdoing or failed to exercise appropriate supervision, the Township would be justified in taking action against him in response. Lawsuit complaints are designed to convince the reader that the defendants are guilty, and then the defendants get their chance to respond. I suggest we see what happens and, in the meantime, extend our gratitude to all of our firefighters, in the rank-and-file and in leadership, for their service.
Mr. Jacobson, I agree with your points with respect to refraining from commenting on pending lawsuits on the basis of what is in complaints and I do not have opinions about Chief Herrmann either. That is for the litigation to resolve. But your calling the Glen Ridge contract defensible, your failure to comment on the Fire Department being weaponized against our citizens and your suggestion that not agreeing to subsidize Glen Ridge was a hard choice in a situiation where you were dealing with three municipalies, not three private parties is not worthy of your usually serious approach to municipal issues. The decision was clearly indefensible, particulalrly after a local taxpayer worked hard to raise the unfairness of the prior contract. Then the way it was presented made a terrible decision even worse. And one more point! I am still hopeful you will again bring your knowledge and interest to comment on staffing levels in the police and fire departments. What you said years back made sense.
“…fault Chief Herrmann for playing along with that game…”
Wow. Playing? Would complicit, legally speaking, be a more accurate term?
Jeff, what do you think is the probability that the Fire Chief had conversations with the CFO about costs? Is your position predicated on the assumption that it was zero?
Is it your approach the Fire Chief had to play ball with this supposedly manipulative Council because…he doesn’t indirectly report to the Council?
And who do you think came up with he FEMA approach to crunching cost numbers? Councilor Hurlock? Cummings? Mayor Spiller? I won’t even delve into the argument that a major cost center being described as almost totally fixed costs and the long-term model….when we are going in the opposite direction.
And the we are to thank the “rank-and-file and in leadership” for coming into the public’s sandbox (the Council chambers) to guilt or intimidate us by a show of force that we needed to take this deal – even after the real numbers had been publicized? The MFD double-down and went with the high-profile actions instead of just saying they screwed up…or were just playing along?
And with all these firefighters massed for effect, they didn’t happen to mention the need for 13 more firefighters, promotions increases, new equipment, radios, facilities, etc etc etc.
Those serving us forgot to mention this? Well, we will. have 15 years of reminders to thank them for their service.
As you can read, I’m a little incensed.
Ludicrous doesn’t adequately describe your reasoning and requests of us.
Since this thread has come around to discussing the shared service fire agreement with Glen Ridge, I need to agree with Pelberg that the contract is indefensible, and, as a reflection on the stewardship of the four Council members who voted to approve it, truly disgraceful (the “no” votes were Hurlock, Russo and Yacobellis). Those Council members voting “yes” could not have “concluded” anything, since they had no information to make an intelligent decision. This was a political decision for sure, and whatever spirit moved them, it wasn’t the best interests of the residents and taxpayers of Montclair. I don’t want to recount the detailed, cogent and incisive criticism of the previous contract by Eileen Birmingham (and others, I think), all of which was obviously ignored, but a few truths bear repeating. This is the PUBLIC, not the private, sector. We are combining the two municipalities and establishing one paid fire department. The operating and capital costs of that department are easy to ascertain, and should be allocated fairly. You can debate what “fair” means — by relative population, by relative value of each municipality’s real estate, by land area, or by some blend of these. Any way you look at, the “fair” amount is two to three times what was agreed to. Glen Ridge, meanwhile, held out for some puny amount based on the “incremental” cost of servicing Glen Ridge with the existing department, a completely phony measure.
You can’t say that the Council wasn’t on notice of how unfair the contract was to Montclair. Even the CFO, Ms. Rao, as part of financial oversight gave the Council an analysis of what a fair contract would look like, which may have been part of some Council members hostility towards her.
Defenders of the contract cite the “straw man” — the colossus of Bloomfield — as the excuse for going low. But who did the analysis? How many fire houses does Bloomfield have? Where are they located relative to Glen Ridge? How many firefighters? what equipment? How old is the equipment? What are Bloomfield’s projected response times for calls from Glen Ridge? Could Bloomfield even handle the additional work? How do these statistics line up with similar data from Montclair? In other words, how much of a contender was Bloomfield, really? And how much did the residents of Glen Ridge want to trust their fire prevention and suppression services to Bloomfield?
I don’t know if the Council did any of this research and analysis. If so, why don’t we see the reports, the studies, the memos — anything. I don’t know who did the negotiations, how they were conducted. I do know that Montclair danced to Glen Ridge’s tune — acquiescing to a sealed bid game, and pretended options and delusional fears. Or perhaps the decision was quite rational — politically speaking.
The thing is that you ignored the 5 months prior to Glen Ridge putting the contract out to bid. This s the period where discussions and decisions set the stage for the subsequent compounding of our folly. Focus on that period if you truly want to understand how we are losing a million a year.
What I’ve said before, and will repeat, is that the Glen Ridge Council acted dishonorably, and potentially put its residents in danger, by bidding out their fire contract. They should have treated Montclair with the respect we earned as their long-term partner by negotiating with us exclusively and in good faith. Instead, in a successful attempt to save their taxpayers a few bucks at Montclair’s expense, they did what they did.
Our Council had three choices in response: don’t bid, bid “safely” in a way that ensured we’d win even if Bloomfield submitted a competing bid, or bid an amount that reflected our true costs. They choose “bid safe.” I believe I would have chosen one of the other two options, but I also think what the Council did was defensible. Even if the risk of losing the contract entirely was very low, the impact on our own public safety if we rolled snake eyes would have been serious.
What I can’t excuse is the Council’s attempt to spin their decision as a “win-win.” It wasn’t. Frank, I’m sure you’re right that the idea to use FEMA reimbursement numbers to justify the deal came (at least in part) out of Fire Headquarters, but I’d also bet the ranch that it was in response to an order. The powers-that-be decided to shout “win-win” from the rooftops, and town employees had to join the chorus.
So, I ask again: Why does the Fire Chief deserve the blame for this? He didn’t make the decision to submit a safe bid. He wasn’t the “win-win” cheerleader. He worked for a guy who worked for the Council that made these decisions.
The Fire Department also has been clear for many years that we needed a new radio system. It should have been purchased before, but this Council and the Jackson Council deferred a lot of capital needs. The Fire Department got some new trucks, but no radios. I have been one of the loudest voices for over a decade that both our Police and Fire Departments have too many supervisors, but that’s a different conversation.
In no way am I saying that Chief Herrmann is immune from criticism or hasn’t earned some. But the premise here was that he should be fired. I am nowhere close to agreeing with that view based on the facts presently known.
Thank you for the comment, Jeff. Well said, and I hear you. But I didn’t mean to imply that the fire chief was the only official responsible for the awful Glen Ridge fire deal and what appears to have been a rigged fire department promotion exam. He was ONE of the officials — a powerful, influential official — involved in both situations.
The now-former township manager was also involved in both situations, and — in the case of the Glen Ridge fire deal — the mayor and at least some other Township Council members were part of the process as well.
How much blame does the fire chief deserve for the problematic exam (and related issues), and for the Glen Ridge renewed-deal debacle? I don’t know exactly, but he was certainly a player and, at minimum, could have tried to exercise some veto power, which he apparently didn’t.
I’ve seen many details of the racism-charging lawsuit filed by the two Black firefighters, and I’ll be surprised if the defense credibly punches many holes in the damning allegations.
Re the Glen Ridge fire deal, I agree that the mayor and others who called it a win-win were being ridiculous. Montclair officials were clearly duped by Glen Ridge into thinking there was going to be some bidding. They didn’t have to let themselves be duped.
Montclair residents can potentially vote out some or all of our town’s elected officials next year; they obviously don’t have direct power over the fate of appointed officials such as the township manager and fire chief. But residents can apply pressure with words.
Last but not least, I also have the utmost respect for most of Montclair’s firefighter rank-and-file.
Ira, pelberg, and Frank: great analyses of the atrocious deal that Montclair accepted to continue providing fire services to Glen Ridge.
“Last but not least, I also have the utmost respect for most of Montclair’s firefighter rank-and-file.” -DA
I really respect the ones that covered other firefighter’s shift by allegedly forging the duty logs. I say allegedly because, frankly, I am just so confused with what constitutes illegal or unethical these days and everyone is laying down lawsuits and constant references being made to it. Did it happen? I’m not sure anymore. Is there such a thing as accountability anymore? I’m not sure anymore.
There good news is we can buy ourselves a Supreme Court justices in a pinch – from either party. Oh, see what happens when you police yourself. The pinnacle of the legal industry. Way. To, Go, Barristers. The Court would be considered corrupt in the real world, but the Supremes don’t have ethical standards. Great industry.
Anyway, yes, let’s respect everyone because of the job they hold – not how they conduct themselves in the workplace. Wow, what a concept? Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
If I had a ranch to bet, I would bet it that there are (x-everyone in municipal roles ) maybe 5 Mtc residents that know the amount we appropriated to the Fire Dept. in last year’s approved budget.
Thank you for the 1:52 pm comment, Frank. You made some good points. I was careful to qualify my comment by saying “most” Montclair firefighters, not all. Perhaps I was being overly generous. There has definitely also been some problematic behavior below the leadership levels in that department. And, yes, firefighters who have a difficult job requiring courage to do are not always as admirable as we’d like in their actions. Same for police officers, of course.
And Mr. Jacobson- why is the issue of too many supervisors in the Police and Fire Departments “another conversation?” This is budget season. To your credit you have been a smart voice on that issue. You raised it years ago and nothing was done. Perhaps the Council can “recoup” some of the money they gave away to Glen Ridge by making adjustments in those supervisory staffing levels. Perhaps the Fire Chief can be asked to make recommendations in that regard or find money for radios from eliminated positions savings.
I think you got your Mayor Jacksons mixed up. Remember what you wrote in 2020?!
“jeffjacobson February 11, 2020 At 8:38 am
If this is indeed the end of Robert Jackson’s tenure as Mayor, let us please take time to step back and appreciate his leadership over the past eight years. You do not have to agree with all of his decisions in order to acknowledge three indisputable facts about his tenure:
1) Montclair is in substantially better fiscal shape than it was eight years ago. This is a whole-Council accomplishment, and I think Bill Hurlock’s role in getting us here should get more attention, but Mayor Jackson set the tone and kept the promises he made during his 2012 campaign. Our taxes are still too high, but that’s much more the fault of Essex County’s decades of profligacy and a terrible school funding formula at the state level that shorts communities like Montclair. The 20% of our tax levy that’s under Council control has been tightly run under Mayor Jackson’s leadership.
2) Our government is “working” in a way it certainly was not in the past. Blow-ups on the Council have been few and muted. On those couple of occasions when the Council has been split on tough issues, they voted and moved quickly past the dissension. We have an all-business Township Manager and solid leadership in our municipal departments. There can always be less crime, but our Police Department is community-oriented and headed, it seems, in the right direction. I recognize there are serious issues with our schools, but I don’t think it’s fair to put the bulk of those issues at the feet of Mayor Jackson’s appointments to the Board of Education.
3) In a time of great disunity nationally, Mayor Jackson has mostly kept Montclair out of divisive political disputes. He has spoken out when those issues have touched Montclair, and his voice has brought calm, rationality, and Montclair’s shared values when the community needed it. We are at some risk, without his leadership, of seeing divisive issues explode into our 2020 municipal election. I’m hoping for the best on that front, not least because the progress Mayor Jackson has spearheaded on this and other fronts can be quickly undone.
I was a candidate for Town Council in 2012 on a competing slate. When Mayor Jackson prevailed, I said at the time that the best candidate won. Mayor Jackson has proved that to be true every day of his tenure.
Thank you, Mayor Jackson, for your dedicated service to our community.”
Word of advice Jeff: If you’re contemplating running again, you might want to rethink the gratuitous spurious attack on Jackson strategy. It’s a loser!
I am sorry if i have taken this discussion off track. Personally, I agree generally with Mr. Jacobson’s comments about Mayor Jackson and his leadership and I admired Mr. Jacobson for his comments about Police and Fire supervisory positions years ago. Those comments took courage and insight then and would take courage to repeat now if they are still true. I commented now because I think that kind of leadership, and not excuses for the shameful Glen Ridge contract is what I believe we need. On that subject, Ira Karasick, has nailed it!
Robert Jackson did a lot of things right as Mayor, including running a smooth operation. Overall, his leadership did leave the town in much stronger financial shape than when he arrived. One thing he did wrong, however, was defer needed capital investments. He oversaw the paving of a lot of roadways, and we got shiny new police cars every year, but a long list of other capital projects—including a badly needed new radio system, didn’t happen. So, Mayor Jackson deserves a lot of credit for reducing the town’s debt, but part of that came by postponing a bill that now has come due.
I would really like to see a 2024 election in which someone is running on the idea of reforming Montclair’s government. More police officers on the street and in the community policing unit, fewer white-shirt (lieutenants and above) supervisors. Same with the fire department. Take a serious look at whether we can save money by hiring an outside company to provide trash and recycling logistics without displacing or cutting the pay of our hard-working sanitation employees. Thinking about having the ward councilors elected in a different year than the Mayor and At-Larges, so that voters can exercise control every two years instead of every four. Etc.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to get that kind of a choice.
Mr. Jacobson- Thanks for that!
What this town desperately needs is more citizen actions like Ms. Birmingham’s fire contract analysis and you did with the allocation of the Police and Fire Department budgets a few years back. Then we need the conversion of that kind of smart good citizenship into government policy. In other words we need- smart! I became enraged when Ms. Birmingham’s thoughtful analysis was ignored and we got the insulting “win/win” analysis followed by the weapomizing of the Fire Department. It was the breaking point for me. What we do not need is ambitious patronizing politicians serving on the Council and citizens who seem to take pleasure in angry ad hominem attacks.
Unfortunately the administration, the Council and the public have become disoriented as to what is the proper spend (and why we seem to really go in financial denial) when it comes to Salary & Wages expenditures.
The Fire Dept, as Jeff has been saying, should be offering a budget reduction. Not any increase. [If you want my numbers, you will have to OPRA them] Personally, based on facts others have gleaned, I say a 15% overall reduction – half this year and half next seems appropriate and more than sufficient to cover our fire service needs. Capital? I would just cut 500K out of the schedule. This is low hanging fruit. Look at the 5-yr spend on Station #3.
I have been supportive of trash & recycling because the benefits of outsourcing have been, at best, dubious. As importantly, being in town as long as I have perceived the issue is, in part, a racial equity quid pro quo. Quid pro quo are expedient. That said, this years budget is seriously whacked at over a 16% increase in just Salary & Wages. Yes, this year is special with the Local Finance Board approving CAP exceptions in certain categories, including trash & recycling. But, this is where Montclair historically gets a little randy turning a 1-time, budget bandaid into rods & pins & rehabilitation spending for years.
I know our Township is awash in cash. We’re a little arrogant. Tuesday night we will put draw $8MM on credit and talk about prioritizing probably another $8MM. Who knows? The last time anyone saw a plan was when Jeff was on the Capital Finance Advisory Comm.
I remember when 2012 Election when none of the candidates could say what our level of gross indebtedness was because the Township didn’t know. The serious people settled on somewhere between $223MM-$235MM. Two hundred twenty-three million gross. The sky was falling. It was dire. It was in 2012 dollars. It was also compared to the 2012 property valuation.
Counting Tuesday’s bond ordinance, our gross indebtedness will be just under $335MM. Yes, $100MM higher than when we started. The good news is that it will be compared to our 2022 property valuation.
I don’t think Montclair’s government necessarily needs to be reformed, since the existing structure, properly staffed with diligent and decent elected and appointed individuals, can work well. That said, I’d like to briefly provide an insider’s perspective to Jeff Jacobson’s observations on the Township government’s accomplishments and failures during Mayor Jackson’s eight-year administration.
To begin with, running a “smooth operation” cannot be undervalued. Teamwork, essential to efficient government, depends on mutual respect among elected officials and the Manager and Directors. Just look at the present chaos, which runs much deeper than just the Council, to see how things can fall apart without leadership. What, and how many, capital projects to undertake was a serious ongoing debate. Proper stewardship required a steady road repair and paving program. Water and sewer infrastructure needed constant upgrading, especially after the State enacted a water quality law that compelled municipal action. Fortunately, due to exceptional departmental leadership, utility improvements could be funded out of operating surplus. New police radios (I don’t know if they were ultimately installed) were funded by ordinances in 2012 and 2014, totaling $897,000, and were bonded in 2013 and supplemented in 2014 in the amount of $789.010. Coincidentally, at the December 11, 2012 Council meeting that approved the first police radio expenditure, Jeff Jacobson was appointed to Council’s Capital Finance Committee.
During Mayor Jackson’s second term, the Finance Committee, which included the Mayor and two Council members, the CFO, the Manager and Deputy Manager, the Township Attorney, the Financial Consultant (when needed) plus any Directors with projects to discuss, met every two weeks from 4pm to at least 7pm (no overtime for anyone) and, among numerous other financial matters, discussed the status of every ongoing capital project. Issues like police and fire staffing, filling vacancies, cost benefit of trash pickup schedules and equipment replacement, were addressed, as were the financial impact of redevelopment projects and proposed Financial (PILOT) Agreements, real estate leases and acquisitions, etc. etc. Other committees also met and reported on other areas of concern (Economic Development, Public Safety, Services).
For the most part, the public didn’t see the nuts and bolts work of research, deliberation, and debate that went on, but it appears that in most cases they appreciated the results. Of course, not every project was started, not every analysis performed, not every problem fixed. Differing priorities led to argument and public criticism, as they should. But very very few issues were missed, that is, unknown and undiscovered. We just couldn’t get to them all.
Continuing this respectful debate (I mean that seriously):
Ira, I think you and I are on the same page about the high value of what I termed a “smooth operation.” The Council was functional. We had solid department heads. Some Councilors worked harder than others, but that’s not unusual. There were strong personalities on the Council, then as now, but the Mayor kept the acrimony behind the scenes and off the dais, and he was great at building consensus.
The Councilors decided as a group that debt reduction was one of their highest priorities. As a result, the capital budget wasn’t as high as I think it should have been given the number of infrastructure needs we have had. The Council then decided to spend a high percentage of the capital budget on road resurfacing. I didn’t agree with either decision, but they won and I lost, and so they—quite appropriately—got to make those calls. But the bills for those deferred expenses are coming due now.
Here’s another fun fact: When the Council passed the resolution in December 2012 reestablishing the Capital Finance Advisory Committee, the Council directed department heads to cooperate with us and *asked* the School District to do so (because the Council doesn’t control the School District). The Council’s objective was to create a unified summary of capital needs across the town so they could set priorities and, possibly, recognize some efficiencies by grouping similar projects and bidding them out together. The School District, however, told the Capital Finance Committee to pound sand. They simply refused to meet with us. And, a few years later, stairwells started to collapse.
I agree with Ira that there is a lot wrong right now in town. It’s not just the stuff we can see when Council members fight with each other on the dais. More rot is under the surface. We still have some great department heads, but Tim Stafford was not a good Township Manager, and we’re going to be living with his mistakes for some time to come. I hope the School District is better staffed now than it was a decade ago, so they will spend all this bond money wisely, but I’m skeptical.
My family and I have been here for 16 years now. There’s a lot to love about Montclair, but calling ourselves “special” over and over again isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need good stewards. The dysfunction we’re seeing now simply can’t continue.
Jeff Jacobson, you wrote the following above:
“The Fire Department also has been clear for many years that we needed a new radio system. It should have been purchased before, but this Council and the Jackson Council deferred a lot of capital needs. The Fire Department got some new trucks, but no radios. I have been one of the loudest voices for over a decade that both our Police and Fire Departments have too many supervisors, but that’s a different conversation.”
Wait, so – according to you – the Jackson Council paved the streets and bought equipment but “deferred a lot of capital needs”. What are you saying? Paving streets and buying equipment ARE capital needs! You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Jacobson. Jackson Council did $85M of capital projects and you are kvetching that they missed $1M of radios?
Further, weren’t you on the Finance Committee before Jackson team took over? How much was done in capital projects during that time? Please be specific.
I would like to know how many fires Montclair MFD fielded in the last 5 years. I also would like to know how many were missed because of the inferior radio system. Lastly, you will be glad to know that we are spending $1.5 million right now on radios, to the dismay of many residents. It sounds like the taxpayers would much prefer to spend this money on something other than the MFD at this time.
First, can you elaborate on your contributions to Montclair’s capital needs or fiscal condition? Pardon me, but I was not familiar with you prior to your comment above.
Second, do you not recall the deplorable state of Montclair’s finances and infrastructure in 2012? Asking around, I’ve been told that you repeatedly noted it during your unsuccessful campaign for Third Ward Councilor.
Third, what “capital needs”, other than your obsession with fire radios, were deferred by the “Jackson Council” specifically? I’ve dug a little bit and was amazed by what wasn’t “deferred”.
It wasn’t the 67 miles of curbing and paving of roads following decades of neglect. Was your street done? My neighbors and I were thrilled when our street was done! Nice property value boost!
It wasn’t the 4 of 5 major Fire Department apparatus that were replaced for $3 million. The replaced trucks were as much as twenty years old and on life support. You flippantly referred to this investment as “they got some new trucks” in your comment! Hilarious!
It wasn’t the new garbage trucks, replacing existing ones that had garbage falling out of their corroded packers.
It wasn’t the millions spent for upgrades to Edgemont, Canterbury, Mountainside, Tuers, Yantacaw, and George Washington parks. Let’s not forget securing the Green Acres funding to improve Nishuane and Essex parks. It wasn’t the miles of replaced or relined water and sewer mains or major upgrades to our wells.
In sum, I have confirmed that during the eight years of the “Jackson Council” $85 million was spent on “capital needs”, an unprecedented investment!
I hasten to add that this was not unmanaged spending. Again, I have confirmed that when the “Jackson Council” took office in 2012, the Township was drowning in $223 million of debt and tagged with an embarrassing AA- credit rating. When the “Jackson Council” left in 2020, the debt was reduced to $160 million. Moreover, in less than four years, i.e. 2016, the Township was upgraded to the highest credit rating, (AAA). I’ve been told by long-time municipal observers that New Jersey had never seen a turnaround like Montclair’s.
Was the “Jackson Council” perfect? Of course not. Was it heads and shoulders the best government this Township has seen before or since? Absolutely!
The Jackson Council didn’t get credit for stepping up when the Library Levy declined and backstopping their discretionary funding to make them whole. Of course, then the Library love-fest went South at the end.
Then this Administration (with 4 carryovers) and the oh those Library folks made it worse by blaming the CFO and generally showing a lack of respect for her and her role.
The Jackson Council didn’t get the proper credit for the good things because they didn’t publicly acknowledge their many missteps and how they treated people. They made that bed. Four are still in that bed.
Two years ago I would have agreed with you (at least over my adult life). Now? I’m just waiting for this to play out & the dust to settle before I write history in ink.
I moved to Montclair with my family in 2006 and ran for the position of Third Ward Councilor (against now-Mayor Spiller) in 2012. After Mayor Jackson and his colleagues assumed their offices, they asked me to chair the new Capital Finance Advisory Committee beginning in December 2012, and I agreed. We had a spectacular group of people on the Committee, and most of us attended every meeting set up with department heads to discuss their capital needs. As I noted earlier, the School District declined to participate despite Mayor Jackson having asked them to do so.
After the members of the Capital Finance Advisory Committee had met with all Department heads—multiple times, in some cases—and carefully reviewed their capital requests, we prepared a detailed report for the Council recommending what we thought were the most important priorities. We had expected the Council to invite us to a public hearing to discuss the report, but that didn’t happen. Nor did our report see the light of day. The Council, as of course was their right, took it upon themselves to decide how much to spend on capital improvements and how to prioritize them.
This is from memory, but as I recall, the issue with the municipal radio system had to do with the radio frequency having been reallocated. At the time, we were already picking up interference from other broadcasters, and the FCC eventually was going to reclaim the frequency entirely. It seems the decision was made to wait to replace the system until we couldn’t wait any longer.
At the time we prepared our report, the vast majority of the township’s garbage trucks were at the end of their useful life. That gave us a one-time window to investigate other options for municipal trash and recycling collection before we had to invest in new trucks. The Council—again, as was their right—decided not to do this. Instead, they bought new trucks.
In the eight years between 2012-2020, the Council did buy new fire trucks, which were on the CFAC’s priority list. They also bought a whole lot of police vehicles, including the totally ridiculous “command truck.” And they paved a lot of roads.
This is from memory, too, but most of the items on our priority list were the opposite of “sexy.” Take, for example, the police evidence storage room, which is a disaster waiting to happen. That’s one of the main reasons why Mayor Jackson tried very hard to broker a deal to build a new police headquarters. It wasn’t because anyone needed shiny new offices. It’s because the existing building is an asbestos-laden mess that is half off-limits for that reason.
Pat, you seem to think I’m writing to criticize Mayor Jackson. I’m not. I’m a huge fan of his. I think he did a great job. I commented on this thread because I disagree with Dave’s calling for the firing of Chief Herrmann. I brought up capital needs because Chief Herrmann argued vigorously and effectively to our Committee for the equipment his firefighters needed to protect us and themselves. And I repeated a point I’ve made before, which is that although I think Mayor Jackson and his colleagues made a lot of good decisions, I disagreed with some of their capital spending priorities. Some of those chickens already have come home to roost, and others likely will do so in the future.
The current Council, of course, has been nowhere on these issues. I’d take my few respectful disagreements with Mayor Jackson over the current state of affairs any day of the week.
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