Help Right a Wrong. Critical Employee Being Let Go in South Orange
Monday, August 26, 2013 • 8:02am
During my time of the Board of Trustees, one of my proudest accomplishments was helping to hire our new Village Clerk, Robin Kline. Coming to South Orange, Robin had big shoes to fill from her predecessors, Lynn Cuccinello and Marj Smith, both of whom served the Village well for many years. However, after just a short period of time, it was quickly apparent that Robin Kline was "the real deal". She not only spoke about organization, transparency, efficiency, customer service, ethics, hard work and professionalism - she lived it - every single day. The amount of information she processed, including meeting minutes, ordinances, resolutions, legal notices, OPRA requests, correspondence, liquor licenses, elections, licenses and permits, just to name a few, was staggering. However, she kept on top of all of it, followed through on everything and never let a ball drop. She did all this while simultaneously maintaining a positive attitude towards customer service to everyone who entered Village Hall, and handling all requests with grace and professionalism.
So, it was all the more stunning when the Board of Trustees (which includes the Village President) posted a job opening for the Village Clerk's job on the Village website on August 19 and issued a statement on August 20 stating that "the Village Clerk’s appointment and service to the Village will end on September 30, 2013."
The statement went on to say that "The Board has expressed a fundamental opposition to tenure and is exploring its options at this time". However, there are a few keys facts that make this statement baffling, at best, and possibly illegal, at worst:
• A Municipal Clerk is granted tenure after FIVE years of continuous employment. Robin Kline was hired in 2010 and her initial three year term ended on August 1, 2013. A reappointment NOW would not provide tenure until 2015. Robin could EASILY be reappointed now, while the Board of Trustees simultaneously works with the State Legislature to reform tenure over the next two years.
• The State statute provides that the "clock resets" after a 60 vacancy in the position. So, Robin COULD take a 60-day leave of absence and then be reappointed, which would start the five year clock back to the beginning, giving the Board of Trustees five years to work with the State Legislature to reform tenure.
• The Board of Trustees statement that they have a "a fundamental opposition to tenure" was never discussed publicly. Similarly, there was no resolution voted on which stated this opinion. (Certainly not during the six years I served on the Board nor over the past 3 months after my term ended.) Yet, the statement says that "the Village Clerk’s appointment and service to the Village will end on September 30, 2013". In essence, the Board of Trustee took action in Executive Session, which is in violation of the Open Public Meeting Act.
• The declaration of a "fundamental opposition to tenure" will likely decrease the pool of qualified applicants who apply for the position to replace Robin. After all, who would apply for a job with the knowledge that they too will be let go in 3 years, regardless of their performance?
As word has gotten out about this, residents, former colleagues, former Board members and respected members of the community have rallied around Robin on Maplewood Online and via an online petition that is being circulated:
Through this dialog, many constructive suggestions were made which would allow the Village to retain an indispensable employee, while simultaneously addressing the stated "fundamental opposition to tenure".
For the sake of fairness, please sign the petition and contact the Board of Trustees directly (BoardofTrustees@southorange.org) to express your disappointment in this decision and request that they reconsider and immediately reappoint Robin Kline as Village Clerk.