Possible Secession from Union County Dominates Berkeley Heights Township Council Meeting
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 • 7:21am
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Secession from Union County was again the topic of conversation at the Tuesday, March 5 Township Council meeting. Councilman Robert Woodruff objected to former Union County Freeholder Deborah Scanlon’s being hired by the county for a $75,000 position, with pension benefits, one month after she retired from 15 years serving as a freeholder.
“This governing body has decided in the fall we’ll place on the ballot the question of seceding from Union County,” in a public referendum, Woodruff said. “They never cease to amaze.”
Before raising his objections to Scanlon’s hiring, he objected to “a very minor matter.” Each councilmember had received from the county a package of election materials covering important election dates. A variety of pamphlets and brochures were enclosed. The total to mail the package was $5.50. When multiplied by the number of council members in the county, Woodruff thought “it could be about $10,000. But when you’re sitting in our town trying to find $1,000 here or there…”
Then he brought up Scanlon, “A month or so ago, a former freeholder, Mrs. Scanlon, retired after 15 years as a freeholder. They created a $75,000 job with pension for her. There are conflicting reports as to whether this is a new or replacement position. This is a county that laid off 150 people last year, and they thought it appropriate to create a $75,000 job for a former freeholder… The county is 180 degrees from towns… She was already getting pension credits as a freeholder.”
He noted Scanlon was not involved in creating the position. He said the council will have a meeting for the public to comment on secession “in the next month or so.”
During the public comment session, Steve Yellin, a Democrat who has formerly run for Township Council, warned that even if the referendum passes in Berkeley Heights, it will likely never get past the Democratic-controlled State Legislature. “Other towns have done it and have been rejected.” He noted that it would be “precedent setting” in an urban county. “I think we have to be aware that this will likely not lead to any tangible change.”
Woodruff said he did not disagree, but “there is one option in Trenton and Union County and that is to manage better.”
Council President Kevin Hall said, “It’s not preordained that this is going to fail… We’re not fatalists.”
Mayor Joseph Bruno concluded the discussion by stating his opinion. “Somebody has to start the ball rolling. The Legislature needs to get their act together and look at the mismanagement that’s going on statewide. People in government borrow money they don’t have (to pay back) every day. I’m going to try and change something. Maybe this will spread to a movement. New Jersey cannot stay this way.”
Also at the meeting, the council discussed pro-rating vacation days. Bruno said if someone leaves the township’s employ currently, they are able to take with them the full number of vacation days they would have acquired had they worked for a full year, even if they leave only two months into that year. The council agreed that this policy needs to be changed. Township Attorney Joseph Sordillo will bring a draft ordinance to the next meeting for the council to consider.
Hall brought the audience up to date on where the township stands on a proposed land swap with Little Flower Church. He said the council hopes to sit down with Little Flower representatives “at the end of March or early April to have a dialog.” The township has hired an appraiser, an architect and has asked the township planner to help determine if a swap is actually feasible.
“We should have all of the information in 2-3 weeks to sit down and have a dialog,” he said. “If it’s possible, that would be the time “ to talk with residents about it, “then put together an action plan, if appropriate.” He estimated the residents will have the opportunity weigh in in May.