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Westfield Town Council Deadlock
Council Republicans Seek Further Input on Mayoral Appointments
By PAUL J. PEYTON Specially Written for The Westfield Leader
There is definitely a change in the makeup of the Westfield Town Council. Many appointments by Mayor Thomas C. Jardim, including both employee and various board and commissions, were postponed until this Monday after the Democrats failed to convince the Republican majority on the governing body to favor the recommendations.
Frustration was shown on the faces of the Mayor and council members during Tuesday's meeting which started a half-hour late. Several former Republican Mayors conferred in private with Republican council members over the appointments. It later was decided by the Mayor to postpone the meeting until this Monday, January 13, rather than take action at the next public meeting on Tuesday, January 21.
The Democrats now hold three of the eight seats on the council in addition to the Mayor's seat. The four seats on the governing body are the most the party has held at one time in the town's history. By Town Charter, paid official appointments by the Mayor must be confirmed by the Town Council. These include the Town Attorney, Prosecutor, Public Defender, Emergency Management Director and Municipal Court Judge. The latter two are three-year terms, while the others are appointed annually.
The Mayor, however, makes appointments to a number of board committees and boards, including the Planning Board, without confirmation from the council. The council, though, makes appointments to the Board of Adjustment. This year its current Chairman Lawrence J. Mannino's term is up for re-appointment.
Republican First Ward Councilman Norman N. Greco confirmed he had heard the Democrats are in favor of replacing Mr. Mannino who assumed the chairmanship last year upon the sudden death of James J. Kefalonitis. The terms of Mr. Mannino and fellow board member Carol Ginsburg expired December 31.
When reached by telephone yesterday afternoon, Mayor Jardim said he has proposed that Mr. Mannino be re-appointed and expects the council to approve this appointment. Councilman Greco confirmed that former First Ward Councilman Anthony M. La Porta and council contender William J. Brennan, both Democrats, have been put forward by Mayor Jardim to serve on the Planning Board. Councilman Greco called both "excellent appointments." The Mayor also will serve on that board as mandated under state law.
A number of appointments which must be cleared up before Monday include the positions of Town Attorney and Municipal Court Judge. Councilman Greco said the Democrats are now proposing to replace long-time town official Charles H. Brandt, a former councilman himself. He said Mayor Jardim also has presented a candidate to replace Municipal Court Judge Edward J. Hobbie. Judge Hobbie has served in the role for some 12 years. The Republicans are believed to be seeking another year for Mr. Brandt.
Although not commenting on the individual appointments themselves, both Mayor Jardim and Councilman Lawrence A. Goldman emphasized that those persons under consideration are highly qualified to serve the town. Mayor Jardim said Republican council members had agreed to the changes he outlined in both paid official and committee appointments.
Councilwoman Gail S. Vernick, however, said there was never an agreement, saying her party's proposals for appointments were "always left up in the air" during negotiation sessions." She said Republican members simply cannot make those appointments proposed without further information and discussion. A meeting between Republican and Democratic council members is set for tonight.
Councilman Greco, agreeing with Mayor Jardim that politics should stay out of the appointment process, questioned why Judge Hobbie was being removed when he has served the town well. He also questioned the proposal to bring in a new labor attorney. Rick Danzer has served in that role over a decade.
Other vacancies up this year which will be filled by the Mayor with council consent include two seats on the Board of Architectural Review, two seats on the Local Assistance Board, four seats on the Board of Health, three seats on the Recreation Commission, one on the Westfield Memorial Library Board and four on the Historic Preservation Commission. Mayor Jardim also will appoint all three seats on the Community Development Revenue Sharing Committee, and one on the Insurance Advisory Board. These appointments do not require council confirmation.
The Mayor, according to Councilman Greco, has indicated he wants to combine the Public Works and Solid Waste standing council committees. Republican members, who hold the majority on the nine-member governing body, have indicated they will not approve the complete list of appointments as written.
Mayor Jardim blamed the delay on the appointments on "politics." He said representatives of both parties sat down for the first time on December 15 when he let them know the names of persons he wanted to appoint. A second meeting was held before Christmas with the most recent session held just Tuesday morning.
He said he believes Republican leaders in Westfield and perhaps at the county level got involved in the process, accusing them of having, "too many cooks in the kitchen." He said he wanted to move forward on those appointments Tuesday night where there was a consensus. He said the Republicans, however, requested a postponement to which he concurred.
Mayor Jardim and Third Ward Councilman John J. Walsh represented the Democrats while Republicans were led by First Ward Councilwoman Vernick and Second Ward Councilman James J. Gruba. Councilwoman Vernick called the appointment process by the Democrats in "disarray." She said the council was asked to confirm both town officials and appointments to various boards without submitting resumes and other pertinent information regarding these people. She also said she would like the process more organized.
Mayor Jardim said the sessions were intended to provide a "smooth transition" between the former administration of Garland C. "Bud" Boothe, Jr. and his administration. Mayor Jardim said a list of the formal appointments were included in council members packages which were sent to their homes this past Friday.
The Mayor indicated he thought from Tuesday morning's meeting that a consensus had been reached. He apologized to both members of the public in attendance and to his colleagues on the council for the failure to bring about an agreement on those appointments at this time. He repeated his remarks from his inaugural address on New Year's Day by stating he hopes council members can put aside "partisan politics and partisan personalities."
Councilman Walsh said the Republicans displayed an "utmost good faith" at the sessions with the Democrats. He said there was an agreement up until the last moment when the "circumstances changed."
Mayor Jardim said he is always available by telephone for any other information requested by the majority party. He repeated that the names he has proposed were discussed well in advance of Tuesday's meeting. He said the council as a whole did not present a good forum in its first meeting as a two-party unit.
In terms of appointments, Town Administrator Edward A. Gottko received a three-year appointment last January. That appointment in the past had been done annually. The council in December approved a new three-year contract for Kenneth B. Marsh as Town Engineer and Public Works Supervisor. The positions of Town Clerk, currently filled by Joy C. Vreeland; and Tax Assessor, Robert Brennan, have both been tenured. Tenure for these posts requires five years of service.
Mayor Jardim also is set to make council committee assignments for the year. The key committees are Finance, Laws and Rules, and Transportation, Parking and Traffic. Also expected to be an important assignment this year is Solid Waste (or Public Works/Solid Waste if they are combined) where the Democrats have proposed bidding solid waste collection so residents can deduct the services in their federal taxes.
There are currently eight committees in total. The Mayor also makes liaison appointments such as those to the Board of Education, Planning Board, and Chamber of Commerce. Council approval is not required.
When contacted by The Leader, Councilman Goldman said he was optimistic the two political parties could resolve their differences in time for Monday's meeting. Although he did not release the names of those persons under consideration for Mayoral appointments, Councilman Goldman did acknowledge that those persons proposed are all Westfield residents.
In terms of appointments for boards and commissions, Councilman Goldman said Mayor Jardim has proposed several "new faces" as well the re-appointment of some current board members who have expressed a desire to serve again. Councilmen Goldman and Walsh both said they were confident a bipartisan agreement on the appointments could be reached.
On the Planning Board, the terms of Elizabeth H. List, and Joseph P. De Alessandro expired December 31. Mayor Jardim will also serve on that board. The board has been chaired by the past four years by Douglas T. Schwarz. The board is scheduled to reorganize tonight at 8 p.m.
The Mayor also makes appointments for Acting Mayor and Alternate Mayor. The council members act serve in the role of Mayor when the chief town official is unable to attend meetings. Last year, these posts were deemed Deputy Mayor and Alternate Deputy Mayor.
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