Minutes: October 15, 2020

YouTube video of the October 15, 2020 council meeting »

The regular meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on October 15, 2020 via Zoom Webinar in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Harry Shortway presiding.

Statement of Compliance

Adequate notice of this meeting had been provided to the public and the press on January 7, 2020 and on October 9, 2020 and was posted on the bulletin board in the Municipal Building in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-7.

Roll Call

Present were Council Members John Auberger, Jean Murphy, Andrew Pitsker, and Council President Shortway. Also present were Mayor Howard Burrell, Business Administrator Charles Voelker and Township Attorney Josh Zielinski.

Salute to the Flag

Council President Shortway led the assemblage in the salute to the flag.

Public Comments (For Current Agenda Items Only, Limited to 3 minutes per person)

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to open the meeting to public comments.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Jean Murphy
All members present voted in favor.

Seeing no members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close the meeting for public comments.
Motion: John Auberger
Second: Jean Murphy
All members were in favor.

Items for Discussion

a. Environmental Commission Resumption of Responsibility to the Open Space Committee

Council President Shortway started the discussion saying that in 2010 he proposed that we have an Open Space Committee made up of people from different boards and committees like we had in 2000. Presently. The Township Council serves as the Open Space Committee. Council President Shortway said when he was Mayor he asked if the Council had any interest giving the duties to an Open Space Committee or to the Environmental Commission at that time. Council President Shortway feels that at this time the Environmental Commission should not be the Open Space Committee. He is not opposed to having workshop meetings about this if the rest of the Council would like explore other a possible ad hoc committee. Council President Shortway would like to hear how the rest of the Governing Body feels about this.

Council Member Murphy feels that she would not like to see Open Space relinquished to the Environmental Commission. She asked what would the Ad hoc committee be charged with.

Council President Shortway explained that the ad hoc committee would do the inventory of open space, periodically recommend to the Council what open space needs to be investigated and which to purchase. He would not go over nine members, there would be a variety of members from different boards and some public members, and they would be appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Council.

Council Member Pitsker asked if we know of any other towns that have similar models of the Open Space Committee or different models that can give us some feedback.

Council President Shortway said he did several years ago but he has nothing recent from other towns.

Council Members Murphy said she has no problem with an ad hoc committee.

Council Member Auberger also has no problem with an ad hoc committee but he would like to see what other towns are doing. He feels that the final decision to purchase property should be the Governing Body’s decision but have input from others about what we should purchase.

Mayor Burrell is not in agreement with turning the Open Space Committee over to the Environmental Commission. He feels that a committee would be strictly advisory and he likes the ad hoc because we do not have to have it every year. Mayor Burrell also likes the idea of having a broad spectrum of members on the ad hoc committee.

Council President Shortway said doing this would require a change in our code. He asked if the Council would like to have a workshop meeting to discuss this after the first of the year. He said he would look into what other municipalities are doing especially in the Highlands.

Mayor Burrell said he would like to have the Council’s recommendation as far as who will be on the ad hoc committee. He feels that the elected officials should be making the decisions and not an advisory committee.

b. The Procedure and Authority to Set Salaries

Council Member Murphy would like to revisit the fact that there was no resolution on an agenda approving salaries. She feels that there is some confusion that once the budget is approved money can just be spent without Council approval. Council Member Murphy would like to revisit some of the salary increases because so often it is said that the Mayor can increase salaries. Council Member Murphy explained that we have a budget and a salary range ordinance

Council President Shortway feels that we should be as transparent as possible and go over the memos with a fine toothcomb and get it right. We make every attempt to get it right but the law is sometimes very confusing and we take the time to be as transparent as possible. Council President Shortway said we have a very capable and confident attorney who we can ask questions if need be. We do have to remember what form of government we are.

Council Member Murphy would still like to see the resolution on the agenda and she does not agree that it was not presented to the Council. She said that there should be documentation and the resolution should match the budget and if any pay transfers are done within the department but not moved from one department to another without approval from the Council.

Mayor Burrell feels that what Council Member Murphy is requesting is an overreach and he reviews it as micromanaging. The Mayor proposes the budget and we go through budget hearings, and the Mayor does not have money to spend until the Council approves it. Once that money is approved if there is money in the salary budget and the Mayor wants to use money within the salary range to ensure the town can operate in an effective and efficient manner. Mayor Burrell said that simply having the Mayor get permission from the Council for everything he wants to do, he wonders what you need a Mayor for. He feels that there is a different interpretation of the

Council Member Murphy said they are approving a budget with certain numbers in a line items. She asked what is the point of approving a budget if you are going to take it and move things around without approval and that is the check and balance. In Council Member Murphy’s opinion, the Mayor does not have the authority to move money from one department to another.

Mayor Shortway said in nine months he has never seen money taken from one department and moved to another department and he does not know what the issue is.

Council Vice President Auberger feels that it is what government is. It is the checks and balances and just because there is extra money because of a retirement in one department, this does not mean it needs to be spent and extra money can be used for something else. We need to start spending less therefore if one employee retires and there is a saving and you want to give more money to another employee to keep the town running, that should go through the Council.

Council Member Murphy referred to the memo from the Township attorney saying in this form of Government the Mayor may have the authority to set salaries but it is other than department heads and statutory positions. These positions do not fall under the Mayor’s purview to decide that a raise should be given, that is a Council decision. This is where there is a misunderstanding.

Council Member Murphy said she bought to the Mayor’s attention a discrepancy because in last year’s budget there was supposed to be a stipend of $4500.00 and in the 2019 budget a stipend was paid out of $1500.00. She said that after checking and rechecking all of the documents there was never a stipend paid out. Council Member Murphy said the money had gone into a base salary.

Mayor Burrell does not understand what the problem is with moving money.

Council President Shortway said when we go through the budget we will take the time and do it right. His understanding is in this form of government, the Mayor within the line item can move money and spend it as he sees fit. But, if there is a transfer between line item to line item he needs Council approval. They Mayor has considerably strong powers under this form of government but the Council has the responsibility. He said he apologies for using the word stipend. We will work together to get the budget processed.

Council Member Weller entered the meeting at 7:27 p.m.

Council Member Murphy said that last December she met with Chuck Voelker, Harry Shortway and Howard Burrell because there became an issue between the planning, zoning and building department. The way it is written in our code isn’t really the way those departments are operating.

Council President Shortway suggested that we have a workshop meeting to restructure the departments and if we have to change the code we will.

The Council and Mayor were in agreement that they will have a work session in the future to discuss this topic again.

Council President Shortway asked the Municipal Clerk to look at dates for a work shop meeting at the end of November to discuss the structure of the building/zoning department and to discuss the procedure and authority to set salaries further.

Attorney Josh Zielinski explained that within the statutory scheme for setting certain salaries are to be set at reorganization and those are provided in the statute. Certain salaries if the budget is approved and if the salary is within the salary ordinance range and there is money within a line item, the Mayor is free within this form of government to pay those employees what he feels is appropriate. The issue with a resolution to approve the pay raises would be then the Council is now placing its impute on whether or not the pay raises are appropriate or not and whether or not they have the authority to do so. Mr. Zielinski feels that there are other ways of providing the public with the information that Council Member Murphy is looking for. The administration could be able to provide a list of what the salaries are and if anyone has been given a raise. This information is also OPRA able. Mr. Zielinski feels that because things have been done a certain way in the past is not a good reason to continue to do things going forward.

Council Member Murphy asked Mr. Zielinski which employees the Mayor can set salaries for.

Mr. Zielinski said he does not have list of the employees in the Township tonight and he feels it is not appropriate use of time.

Council Member Murphy said in her opinion there are very few employees the Mayor can set the salaries for.

Council Member Pitsker made a motion to have a five-minute recess, seconded by Council Member Murphy. All members were in favor.

Council Vice President Auberger made a motion to resume the meeting, seconded by Council Member Pitsker. All members were in favor.

Minutes

September 28, 2020: Regular Meeting

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve the above meeting minutes.
Moved: Andrew Pitsker
Second: Kelly Weller
All members were in favor.
Motion carried to approve the above meeting minutes.

Council Member Pitsker made a motion to have a five-minute recess, seconded by Council Member Murphy. All members were in favor.

Council Vice President Auberger made a motion to resume the meeting, seconded by Council Member Pitsker. All members were in favor.

Resolutions

Resolution #20-216: Resolution Adopting Township of Vernon Policy for Public Questions or Comments During Virtual Meetings of the Vernon Township Council in Accordance with the Regulations of the Division of Local Government Services

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-216.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Andrew Pitsker

Council Member Pitsker asked if there is a plan in place for when in person meetings are resumed as far as video equipment, speakers, and cameras.

Municipal Clerk Gianattasio explained that this resolution is only for the state of emergency due to Covid-19.

Council President Shortway asked if the Board of Education was going to help with livestreaming the meetings.

Mayor Burrell said he checked with the BOE and they have a staff member who does their live streaming but he does not want to take on the responsibly of doing ours. Mayor Burrell explained that Altice, the company who bought Service Electric Cable, is willing to create and give the town a station for the meetings. Mayor Burrell said this is not something that can be done easily

Council President Shortway explained that we have to follow the regulations in the resolution.

Township Administrator Voelker added that in Essex, Passaic and Union Counties a lot of municipalities have cables providers that have public access channels. To use this the municipalities would have to purchase equipment which costs money. We can possibly budget for this if the Council felt it was an important aspect.

Mr. Voelker feels that after the pandemic is over and we go back to live meetings or live stream meetings we should continue allowing public comments to be emailed before the Township Council meetings to be read at a meeting. This would be something the Council would have to decide.

Township Attorney Zielinski explained that on September 24, 2020 the DCA came out with new rules and regulations regarding remote meetings in light of the state of emergency. This resolution is intended to implement the guidance provided by the DCA. Among the guidelines are that a phone line be provided for anyone to dial in if they do not have computer access as well as email be facilitated to provide comments to the governing body. Mr. Zielinski anticipates that once the state of emergency is lifted the DCA and the Governor will revise the guidelines and procedures on remote meetings.

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-216.

Resolution #20-217: Authorizing Contracts with Certain Approved State Contract Vendors Under 17-Fleet-00743

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-217.
Moved: Andrew Pitsker
Second: Kelly Weller

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: Auberger
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-217.

Resolution #20-217: Authorizing Contracts with Certain Approved State Contract Vendors Under 17-Fleet-00743

WHEREAS, as provided for within the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law (N.J.S.A.40A:11-1 et seq.) the Township of Vernon may by resolution, and without advertising for bids or obtaining quotations, purchase any goods or services under the State Contract; and

WHEREAS, the Township has the need on a timely basis to purchase goods and services utilizing State contracts for the equipping of certain fire department emergency vehicles; and

WHEREAS the Township intends to enter into contracts with 10-75 Emergency Vehicles 14 First Ave Haskell, NJ 07420, New Jersey State Contract 17-FLEET-00743 applicable to all the conditions to current State contracts.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Township Council of the Township of Vernon, authorizes the Qualified Purchasing Agent to purchase certain goods and services from 10-75 Emergency Vehicles 14 First Ave Haskell, NJ 07420, through New Jersey State Contract 17-FLEET-00743 pursuant to all conditions of the individual State contracts; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the governing body of Vernon Township pursuant to NJAC 5:30-5.5(b) (the certification of available funds), states that the Chief Finance Officer shall either certify the full maximum amount against the budget at the time the contract is awarded, or no contract amount shall be chargeable or certified until such time as the goods or services are ordered or otherwise called for prior to placing the order, and a certification of availability of funds is made by the Chief Finance Officer; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this resolution shall take effect immediately upon adoption according to law.

Resolution #20-218: Resolution Authorizing the Option for Employees of the Township of Vernon to Waive Health Insurance Benefits

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-218.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Jean Murphy

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-218.

Resolution #20-218: Resolution Authorizing the Option for Employees of the Township of Vernon to Waive Health Insurance Benefits

WHEREAS, the Township of Vernon (hereinafter “Township”) is continually seeking to reduce expenditures where appropriate; and

WHEREAS, the Township provides health benefit coverage to all regular full time employees; and

WHEREAS, N.J.S.A. 40A:10-17.1 authorizes municipalities to permit employees to waive health care coverage when such employees are covered for health care under the coverage of a spouse; and

WHEREAS, pursuant to statute, the Township may pay to the waiving employee an amount equal to not more than 25% or $5,000.00, whichever is less, of the amount saved by the Township when coverage is waived; and

WHEREAS, the Township desires to implement such a cost efficiency measure for the year 2021; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the Township of Vernon hereby implements the following provisions of N.J.S.A. 40A:10-17.1:

  1. Any employee who elects to waive health care coverage pursuant to this Resolution shall be paid a sum equal to 25% or $5,000.00, whichever is less, of the health care premium savings received by the Township. Payment of sums required under this Resolution shall be made to the Employee on a monthly basis, each payment being one twelfth of the total sum due.
  2. An employee shall be eligible for such waiver and payment only upon compliance with, and under the terms of, the provisions of N.J.S.A. 40A:10-17.1.
  3. An employee shall be eligible to, or required to, resume coverage pursuant to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 40A:10-17.1.
  4. This Resolution shall take effect immediately upon adoption according to law.

Resolution #20-219: Authorizing the Mayor to Continue the Incentive to Employees Who Enroll in an Alternate Health or Prescription Plan

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-219.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: Andrew Pitsker

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-219.

Resolution #20-219: Authorizing the Mayor to Continue the Incentive to Employees Who Enroll in an Alternate Health or Prescription Plan

WHEREAS, Health and Prescription Costs for employees and retirees are rising year after year and account for approximately 10% of the municipal budget; and

WHEREAS, the Township is offering two alternative health insurance plans and one alternative prescription plan for its employees; and

WHEREAS, the Township and employee will see a savings for switching to the optional plan; and

WHEREAS, beginning in 2017 the Township offered an incentive of 1/3 of the Township’s net savings for each employee who elects to switch to an alternate health or prescription plan for the plan year and it is the wish of the Township to continue that program for the plan year January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey as follows:

  1. The Mayor of the Township of Vernon is hereby authorized to continue the 2017 Memorandum of Understanding with the UAW Local 2326 which created the mechanism of which to allow the incentive to be paid.
  2. The change to the Personnel Policy and Procedure Manual adding the addendum to offer this incentive to non-union employees is also continued.
  3. This Resolution shall take effect immediately upon passage in accordance with law.

Resolution #20-220: Authorizing Contract with Certain Approved State Contract Vendor Continental Fire & Safety for Purchase of Volunteer Fire Department Air Bag Supplies and Rescue Tools

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-220.
Moved: Andrew Pitsker
Second: Jean Murphy

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: Auberger
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-220.

Resolution #20-220: Authorizing Contract with Certain Approved State Contract Vendor Continental Fire & Safety for Purchase of Volunteer Fire Department Air Bag Supplies and Rescue Tools

WHEREAS, as provided for within the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law (N.J.S.A.40A:11-1 et seq.) the Township of Vernon may by resolution, and without advertising for bids or obtaining quotations, purchase any goods or services under the State Contract; and

WHEREAS, the Township has the need on a timely basis to purchase goods and services utilizing State contracts; and

WHEREAS, the Township intends to enter into contracts with Continental Fire & Safety who can provide for said items per Sales Order #K4050 at a cost of $18,408.10 and per Sales Order #K4051 at a cost of $5,330.45 under New Jersey State Contract17-FLEET-00757.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Township Council of the Township of Vernon, authorizes the Qualified Purchasing Agent to purchase certain goods and services from Continental Fire & Safety through New Jersey State Contract17-FLEET-00757 pursuant to all conditions of the individual State contracts; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the governing body of Vernon Township pursuant to NJAC 5:30-5.5(b) (the certification of available funds), states that the Chief Finance Officer shall either certify the full maximum amount against the budget at the time the contract is awarded, or no contract amount shall be chargeable or certified until such time as the goods or services are ordered or otherwise called for prior to placing the order, and a certification of availability of funds is made by the Chief Finance Officer.

Resolution #20-221: Authorizing Contract with Certain Approved State Contract Vendor Firefighter One for Purchase of Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Extraction Tools

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-221.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: Jean Murphy

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: Auberger
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-221.

Resolution #20-221: Authorizing Contract with Certain Approved State Contract Vendor Firefighter One for Purchase of Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Extraction Tools

WHEREAS, as provided for within the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law (N.J.S.A.40A:11-1 et seq.) the Township of Vernon may by resolution, and without advertising for bids or obtaining quotations, purchase any goods or services under the State Contract; and

WHEREAS, the Township has the need on a timely basis to purchase goods and services utilizing State contracts; and

WHEREAS, the Township intends to enter into contracts with Firefighter One who can provide for said items per Quote #SQ-00221680 at a cost of $32,242.20 under New Jersey State Contract17-FLEET-00807/ T0790.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Township Council of the Township of Vernon, authorizes the Qualified Purchasing Agent to purchase certain goods and services from Firefighter One, through New Jersey State Contract17-FLEET-00807/ T0790 pursuant to all conditions of the individual State contracts; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the governing body of Vernon Township pursuant to NJAC 5:30-5.5(b) (the certification of available funds), states that the Chief Finance Officer shall either certify the full maximum amount against the budget at the time the contract is awarded, or no contract amount shall be chargeable or certified until such time as the goods or services are ordered or otherwise called for prior to placing the order, and a certification of availability of funds is made by the Chief Finance Officer.

Resolution #20-222: Approving Active Volunteer Fireman for Membership in the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association (MacDonald)

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-222.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Andrew Pitsker

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-222.

Resolution #20-222: Approving Active Volunteer Fireman for Membership in the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association (MacDonald)

WHEREAS, the Township Council recognizes the extraordinary contributions made by volunteer firefighters to our community and seeks to encourage their full participation in professional organizations; and

WHEREAS, Ryan M. MacDonald an active firefighter and member of the Highland Lakes Volunteer Fire Department #3, is requesting approval to submit an application for membership to the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Township Council of the Township of Vernon, Sussex County, New Jersey hereby approves Ryan M. MacDonald for membership in the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association.

Resolution #20-223: Chapter 159 Resolution Requesting Approval of Revenue and Appropriation Amending the 2020 Budget as a Revenue and Appropriation of $280.00

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-223.
Moved: Andrew Pitsker
Second: John Auberger

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-223.

Resolution #20-223: Chapter 159 Resolution Requesting Approval of Revenue and Appropriation Amending the 2020 Budget as a Revenue and Appropriation of $280.00

WHEREAS, N.J.S.A. 40A:4-87 provides that the Director of the Division of Local Government Services may approve the insertion of any special item of revenue in the budget of any county or municipality when such item shall have been made available by law and the amount thereof was not determined at the time of the adoption of the budget; and

WHEREAS, said Director may also approve the insertion of an item of appropriation for an equal amount; and

WHEREAS, the Township has been awarded a $280.00 Municipal Alliance Communities Grant; and wishes to amend its 2020 budget for the difference of the awarded amount as a revenue.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Township Council of the Township of Vernon hereby requests the Director of the Division of Local Government Services to approve the insertion of an item of revenue in the budget of the year 2020 in the sum of $280.00 which is now available as a revenue,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a like sum of $280.00 is hereby appropriated under the caption Municipal Alliance Communities Grant.

Resolution #20-224: Authorizing the Application for New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Recreational Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities Grant

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-224.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Kelly Weller

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-224.

Resolution #20-224: Authorizing the Application for New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Recreational Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities Grant

WHEREAS, the Township of Vernon desires to apply for and obtain a grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, for approximately $16,000.00 State share with $4,000.00 local share for a total contract of $20,000.00 for 2020/2021 to provide therapeutic horse back riding recreational opportunities for people with disabilities.

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, that the Township of Vernon does hereby authorize the application for such a grant; and upon receipt of the grant agreement from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, does further authorize the execution of the agreement; and also, upon receipt of the fully executed agreement from the Department, does further authorize the expenditure of such funds pursuant to the terms of said Agreement between the Township of Vernon and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the persons whose names, titles and signatures appear below are authorized to sign the application, the agreement and any other documents necessary in connection therewith:

Introduction/1st Reading of Proposed Ordinances

Ordinance #20-18: Ordinance of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, Authorizing Acceptance of an Easement for the Property Known as Block 395, Lot 5 on the Official Tax Map of the Township of Vernon

Council President Shortway read by title Ordinance #20-18.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to introduce Ordinance #20-18.
Moved: Jean Murphy
Second: John Auberger

Council Member Murphy asked about the mentioning of the Municipal Tax Collector and the Municipal Tax Assessor in the ordinance.

Attorney Zielinski explained that this is in the ordinance in case there are any adjustments as far as taxes for this particular easement.

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion passed to introduce Ordinance #20-18.

Ordinance #20-19: Ordinance Extending Lease Agreement Between the Vernon Township Board of Education and the Township of Vernon, and Sub-Lease Agreement Between the Township of Vernon and the Dog Owners Gathering Society of Vernon Township, Inc., for Certain Unimproved Real Property Identified on the Official Tax Maps of the Township of Vernon as Block 308 Lot 2 (old Block 133 Lot 2.05)

Council President Shortway read by title Ordinance #20-19.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to introduce Ordinance #20-19.
Moved: Jean Murphy
Second: Andrew Pitsker

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Pitsker, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion passed to introduce Ordinance #20-19.

Public Comments (Limited to 3 Minutes On Any Topic)

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to opened the meeting for public comments.
Motion: John Auberger
Second: Kelly Weller
All members were in favor.

Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, is confused about what Council Member Murphy was trying to explain. Ms. Paladini said it sounded to her that Council Member Murphy was referring to the Mayor not having the authority to give individual salary increases or stipends outside of the salary ordinance, outside the budget or outside of what the budget has previously approved. Ms. Paladini said the Mayor cannot just give out raises because in 2012 the citizens of Vernon took the Mayor to court because salary increases and stipends were given without Council approval. The judge in the case upheld the citizens the plaintiffs and said the Mayor does not have the authority to give raises or stipends without the approval of the Council.

Sally Rinker, Vernon Township - thanked whoever was responsible for restoring and updating the bills list on the Township website. She explained that from time to time the tax payers would like to review this.

Seeing no other members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close the meeting for public comments.
Motion: Andrew Pitsker
Second: Kelly Weller
All members were in favor.

Mayor’s Comments

Mr. Council President and other Council members, at our September 28 Council meeting, the Council unanimously called on me to ask for the resignation of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) Chairperson; and, on tonight I respond to the Council’s unanimous request.

When it became known that I planned to appoint the HPC Chair to be a member of the Municipal Historic Preservation Commission, I received a host of complaints - - most from individuals who were, or who had been, on other municipal boards, committees or commissions. All complained to me about what they described as the HPC Chair’s “hostile” or “attacking” words and behavior towards them, due simply to the fact that the HPC Chair did not agree with them on a given issue.

However, for two reasons I proceeded with my plan to appoint her to the Historic Preservation Commission:

Reason 1: I believe strongly that it’s important that a society understands and acknowledges its history. I specifically believe that an understanding of our history can be a powerful guide that can help us to understand how to choose a better future for our society.

That point of view, combined with my other belief that the HPC Chair’s interest in history, as indicated by her presidency of the Vernon Historical Society, led me to believe that she would make an ideal member to join with others to give life to a Municipal Historic Preservation Commission that was in great need of being brought back to life.

Reason 2: I had also hoped that HPC Chair’s interest in this important challenge would be the kind of powerful mental, emotional and civic motivation that would take priority over any need that she might have to behave in a manner that has been repeatedly described to me by many as “harassing,” “bullying,” and “attacking.”

Well, it is with a great degree of disappointment, a great degree of sadness and sorrow that I must sit here tonight and say, and apologize to all of those who warned me, that I was only half right.

While I was right in my belief that the HPC Chair would do the kind of outstanding job of reviving a dormant Municipal Historic Preservation Commission, as I had wanted her to and believed that she would...

I was completely wrong in my hope that the challenge of rebuilding the Historic Preservation Commission would lessen the number and types of complaints that I and the Council have received, concerning what has been repeatedly described as her “bullying,” “public attacking,” “public demeaning,” “public hostile name calling,” “harassment,” and “threatening behavior.”

To say the least, I have given a lot of thought to your unprecedented unanimous request.

And in pondering the why and how factors of my response to you, good judgement required I consider the fact that the HPC Chair, and all other individuals who are elected or appointed to a town position, and are administered and sign an Oath of Office, are in fact representatives of the town’s government; and as such, are expected to behave in a civil manner that would not bring discredit on the people of Vernon Township or their governing body.

I also considered the fact that this standard of behavior is not some ultra-strict, unreasonable, unforgiving standard that demands absolute behavioral perfection from the town’s representatives.

And therefore, I concluded that when this type of unacceptable behavior on the part of any of our town’s representatives becomes the rule rather than the exception, those of us in leadership positions must stand up; we must stand together; and take the type of action that says to our residents, as well as others who now have the ability through social media to view, to evaluate, and to pass judgment on our beautiful township, that behavior such as “bullying,” “public attacking,” “public demeaning,” “public hostile name calling,” “harassment,” and “threatening behavior” will not be tolerated by any representative of our town’s government.

My decision on this matter was also significantly influenced by the specific comments that you made concerning the HPC Chair’s behavior, at the September 28 Council meeting. Some of your specific comments that stuck in my mind include:

. Council Vice President Auberger stating that he does not believe that a representative of the town’s government should be making threats to the Council;

. Council Member Weller stating that she does not appreciate the threats and innuendoes that constantly come from the HPC Chair;

. Council Member Pitsker citing a call that he made to me after he felt threatened by comments made by the HPC Chair at a previous Council meeting.

. Council President Shortway citing a phone conversation that he had with a municipal volunteer who feels threatened and bullied by the HPC Chair.

. And, Council Member Murphy stating that over the years she has watched good volunteers having been scared away by the bullying from the HPC Chair.

And, in view of the significant volume of concerns and complaints that I have received concerning the HPC Chair’s comments and behavior; and as the Mayor who appointed her to this Municipal Commission; in fulfillment of my responsibilities as mayor, and out of respect for you, the Council - - the other half of our town’s governing body - - I have chosen to head your unanimous request and have asked the HPC Chair to resign.

You should also know that she has declined to do so.

So where do we go from here?

In answering this question, let me make it clear that it is not my desire, nor my intent, to implement any solution that abridges the free speech rights of the HPC Chair or any other municipal representative.

In my opinion, where we go from here on this matter should be guided by two factors:

. Factor No. 1: As of tonight, the Mayor and Council have joined together to let the people of Vernon Township, and everyone else, know that we find it to be unacceptable for consistent hostile, attacking or bullying behavior to be the trademark of anyone that represents this town’s government.

. Factor No. 2: Decades of the study of human behavior have documented the fact that in a free society, real attitude and behavior change from an individual will only come about when that individual recognizes for them self, that there is need for a change in attitude and behavior.

And so while we as Mayor and Council cannot guarantee that the HPC Chair will change her attitude and behavior, we can and should continue to join together and say loud and clear to all of those municipal volunteers who give us their valuable time and effort, that because of the free speech rights that we all enjoy in this great nation, that they may, unfortunately, continue to be on the receiving end of some hostile, attacking or bullying behavior.

However, they should be assured that their government will not tolerate this kind of unacceptable behavior from any governmental representative.

And therefore, Mr. Council President, while I, like you and the other Council members, do not desire to defund or deactivate the Historic Preservation Commission, if that is the only effective option that this governing body has to achieve the above stated objective, then I will stand with the Council in taking this action.

Doing nothing is not an option, and would reflect a lack of leadership and courage on our part.

I am ready to join you in taking that next step!

Council Comments

Council Member Murphy questioned the trail parking on Route 517 and asked if the administration knows of any reason to expand anything in our ordinance or if there are any more signs. She said the police put up temporary signs because people were parking all the way up to Anne Place.

Council Member Murphy said we received a recommendation from the Environmental Committee for bear proof garbage cans. Council Member Murphy called her trash hauler and was told that they send one driver to pick up the cans with a fork on the truck that picks up the cans. Everyone would have to purchase their own bear proof cans which cost a few hundred dollars, the hauling company would need a second driver on the truck and they would physically have to come out of the trucks and unscrew the lids. Council Member Murphy spoke to people who have bear proof cans and they have had to go find them in the woods.

Council Member Murphy asked the status of the pump track. She said people are confused because they have heard that Vernon is purchasing property to build the pump track. She asked if there could be some clarification that Vernon is using property that we already own.

Mayor Burrell said he cannot stop comments on social media but he tries to answer as many people as he can. Mayor Burrell explained that we have some things we need to do before we can get the actual design of the pump track. There is some material we need to clean up and remove.

Administrator Voelker spoke to Cory Stoner the Township Engineer today and he has several other projects going on that he is overseeing. Mr. Voelker said there were three piles at the DPW storage facility that needed additional testing and one other pile that needed to be removed. Mr. Voelker would like the one pile removed before the end of the year. This has to be overseen by Excel Environmental and there is a cost associated with that. As far as the additional testing he will have an answer about this by Monday. As soon as we get the cost for the additional testing and removal it will be put on an agenda.

Council Member Murphy thanked Council Member Pitsker for getting the bills lists posted. She said we may want to revisit the judge’s decision from 2012 about the bills list because it is something the Council should be voting on.

Council Member Murphy encourages the Council to get some information about the salary resolution. She said to read the lawsuit and ask questions at the League of Municipalities Conference. Council Member Murphy said you have a responsibility and you need to stop shrugging it off and thinking it’s up to the Mayor.

Council Member Auberger reminded the public that this Saturday is the bulk waste day at the Township DPW. Also, Harvest House is having their turkey dinner, which is takeout only, at the High School.

Council Member Weller apologized for being tardy to the meeting because of a personal responsibility. Council Member Weller personally thanked Mayor Burrell for the difficult comments this evening. She appreciates the Mayor taking the Council’s concerns so seriously and standing behind us by calling for the resignation of the HPC Chairperson. Council Member Weller said that our volunteers are amazing and we all value them and she finds it unfortunate that we have lost so many of them due to some instances that have happened over the past few months.

Council Member Weller mentioned that the Turkey Trot is virtual this year due to the Covid-19 situation. We are working aggressively to reach out to local businesses and try to get some sponsorships. We understand that this time is hard but we hope they can donate to others who have been hit harder. Any donations that are made this year are all going directly to the Harvest House and there will be nothing taken out. Please reach out to the Recreation Department to be part of the Turkey Trot.

Council Member Pitsker said he supports all the Council Member Weller’s comments. He said the Beautification Committee has done a lot of hard work and they are really making Vernon look good. It takes a lot of hard work to not only bring the decoration out but to also water all of the plants. They are already working on some plans for Christmas.

Council Member Pitsker thanked the Municipal Clerk, CFO and webmaster. He said he reached out to them and asked if we can post the bills list and they got it done.

Council President Comments

Council President Shortway thanked Mayor Burrell saying it is appreciated that he heard the Council and that you are listening. Council President Shortway said none of us will except unacceptable behavior. Our volunteers do a fantastic job in this town and we need to stand by them. He has never seen the town look so good in his 27 years here. Our volunteers put service before self and it is so appreciated.

Council President Shortway also thanked the Mayor for obtaining the easement. It has been a long time and we are going to go forward and it will be a great thing for Vernon.

Adjournment

There being no further items of business to be conducted on the agenda, a motion for Adjournment was made by Council Vice President Auberger, seconded by Council Member Weller with all members voting in favor.

The Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 8:37 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: November 9, 2020