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Berkeley Heights Discharges Township Administrator Upchurch 'Without Cause'

Deb Dawson

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 • 7:07am

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Amey Upchurch is no longer the township administrator of Berkeley Heights. At its Tuesday, Feb. 19 meeting, the Township Council unexpectedly and unanimously adopted a resolution to immediately discharge her “without cause.”

Mayor Joseph Bruno disagreed with the resolution because he said it would cost the township too much money. Since the action was “without cause” the municipality will have to pay Upchurch three months salary in severance, which equates to about $30,000, Bruno said. The mayor does not have a vote. Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley was absent.

Councilman Robert Woodruff said that although fiscal issues are important, “sometimes certain issues supersede and have to be investigated and acted upon.”

Although members of the public asked the reasons why, the mayor and council would make no comment. Resident Carol Metula noted Upchurch was a topic of discussion during the prior meeting’s executive session and asked if those minutes would be available. Bruno said “eventually.”

Woodruff said it was a “personnel” matter, and, “The public official chose to have this discussed in executive session. If she wished it in public, it would have been in discussed in public… Procedures were followed. I think (her wishes) should be respected.”

Upchurch gave a letter to Bruno to read in public session. In it, she thanked him for the “opportunity to serve the township for the last two years.” She wrote she was proud of the “newly initiated procedures” that were put in place during her tenure including the “first ever zero-based budgeting; first-ever rolling six-year strategic capital plan; thorough examination of financial assets; ongoing exploration and implementation of shared service opportunities to reduce costs without reducing services; (and) departmental strategic planning and goal-setting.”

She thanked the staff for their hard work and the council and residents for “the experience gained here.”

In a conversation after the meeting, Bruno said the administrator’s last day was Friday. She left about 1 p.m. “She shook my hand and we parted company in her office.”

He said Upchurch had worked for the township for about two years and two months. Prior to that she worked in the state Department of Community Affairs, and at one time was also administrator in Essex Fells.

Also at the meeting, the council discussed holding a street fair on Springfield Ave. between Snyder and Summit on Sunday, June 30.

Joe Steiner of the Suburban Chamber of Commerce and Cissy Gialanella of JC Promotions Inc. explained the plans.

Steiner said the fair would run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and requested some assistance from the police and public works departments.

Gialanella said she would bring in about 100 exhibitors, food vendors and “little kiddie rides.” The company is fully insured and would add the township as an additionally insured for that day. And, she will “coordinate everything from start to finish.” Local businesses and civic organizations will be invited. When asked, she said the fair could draw 5,000 to 6,000 people.

Council President Kevin Hall asked if that many people might cause a parking problem. She responded the fair runs over the course of seven hours, with fair goers coming and going at different times. “It’s not usually a problem. I do this for 20 different towns.”

Bruno said he has spoken with several of the businesses in town and all are excited about the possibility of the fair, even if it draws only “500 or 600 people. That’s a lot more than we see here on a Sunday.”

The council will vote on a resolution regarding the street fair at its next meeting.

The Berkeley Heights senior citizens will have a place to meet through Aug. 31. The council adopted an ordinance providing for the ability to lease the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society’s Mount Carmel Hall at 56 River Road from Sept. 1, 2012 through Aug. 31.

Rent from the township for 2012 was $1,400 per month. For 2013 the rent increases to $1,428 per month. The seniors can use the hall from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The mayor said earlier that the county is also contributing some money toward the rental.

Two ordinances were introduced. Public hearings for both will be on Tuesday, March 5. The first amends the minimum and maximum ranges for pay rates of elected and appointed township officials and non-union employees. The second creates the position of assistant emergency management coordinator.

The pay scale for the sewer superintendent’s salary was amended to create a high of $102,000 because Bruno said the township has been unable to hire anyone at the prior established high of $91,000. He noted the amendment does not necessarily mean that the highest salary will be paid, but some flexibility is needed.

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