Monthly Archives: August 2010

Clearing Up Some Confusion on the Police Raises

At the August 18 Council meeting, Councilwoman Patricia Cindea made this comment about the petition:

“They [Vorbach-Brennan-Tully] want us to freeze the 7.7% that that police are getting. And that is basically what the petition is about, and it’s incorrect. It doesn’t pertain to the police: It doesn’t pertain to the DPW, for some reason, even though he [Councilman Brennan] said that, the public thinks it…”.

HeightsOnline would like to note that the police are not receiving a 7.7% raise. What the Councilwoman was referring to is the 3.85% contractual raise in 2009 and the 3.85% contractual raise in 2010. The total amount of the two years, taken together, is 7.7% and this is the total amount the officers would be penalized, should their raises be revoked until a Salary & Wage Ordinance is passed.

Borough labor attorney Jamie Plosia has given his opinion that since the raises are agreed to by contract and the Borough has already been paying them out, that the Borough should continue to do so, even absent a valid Salary & Wage Ordinance. The Borough is legally obligated to pay the police officers their money, as the police have a signed contract. The issue will be discussed at the Thursday, Sepember 2 special Council meeting at 7:00 P.M.

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Clarifying Key Discussion on Petition

Wage freeze for 2009 and 2010 “would essentially be breaching those agreements” that exist with workers, giving them grounds to sue.

The Thursday, August 26th Coast Star coverage of the August 18th Council meeting notes that Council President Gavino Maccanico expressed concern that a number of residents were represented in the signatures presented on the petition. He noted this was causing him to have doubts, although he later noted that he had not asked anyone on the petition why they had signed it.  

The Coast Star, due to space limitations, neglected to provide some key points from the discussion that followed Council President Maccanico’s comment. Heights Online has no such space limitiations and so, as a service to our readers, provides more in-depth coverage.

You can read an even more expanded version in our previous posts, which are taken directly from the transcripts of the Council meetings.

Following Councilman Maccanico’s expression of concern, Councilwoman Lynn Kegelman spoke to the political nature of the petitions. She pointed out that any question on the ballot was a non-binding referendum, meaning that the governing body was not bound to act on the resulting vote.

Typically, these questions are used to ascertain what the residents of a town, in general, are interested in. “if you want to get a feeling of the pulse when you are buying the Fletcher property or Mount Laurel or open space, that is proactive and looking to the future,” noted Councilwoman Kegelman, “But this is running the town in day to day business.”

As the Council members are elected by the people to carry out the what the people want, placing specific issues on the ballot is an attempt to override the elected officials in discharging their duties. “It is ruling by anarchy,” the Councilwoman said.

“The people that signed it are caring people, they are intelligent people,” Councilwoman Kegelman explained, addressing the fact that people who should have known better had signed the petition.” But I’m not sure they were given appropriate information to make a thoughtful decision, so that is the vacuum.”

She felt those who circulated the petition were “playing political games” in order to “get every one shaken up,” and say ‘we’re the good guys, we’re for lower taxes.’ But you know what, would any of us [on Council] not lower taxes if it was in our purview, because I’d rather keep my money?”

Councilwoman Cindea noted that: “He [Councilman Brennan ] voted against a zero tax budget, and then voted against adding the same amount of surplus that his budget had, and then complained that we didn’t use less surplus but when I gave him the option to use less surplus, he voted against it.”

Councilwoman Kegelman pointed out that, “The mayor, who is part of the group that is supporting this, as well as Mr. Brennan, voted against Mr. Tully, the Democratic candidate, who came here and addressed us that we were being reckless if we did not decrease the surplus. We then offered a motion to decrease the surplus, and Mr. Brennan voted against. So evidently they don’t know where they are going. What we need to do is just rescind the ordinance and just give it time and let’s see what shakes out.”

Councilwoman Crippen then asked Council President Maccanico, “I wanted to ask you, Butch, did you contact any of those people [who signed the petition]?”

“No,” said Councilman Maccanico.

“Okay, well, I did,” said Councilwoman Crippen. “Because I saw some names on there that I was surprised, one of whom was a person who was affected by this and who said “yeah, yeah this is great, I don’t want to see people going forward getting raises. And I said ‘that isn’t what this is about.’ I said, it is holding up the existing contracts and he said that isn’t what they told me, they said it is to prevent people in the future from getting 10 and 12 percent increases.

“And I said, ‘That is not what it is about, it is to break the existing contracts and we are going to get our asses sued,’ and he was appalled … So I would suggest that people call, if you have names of people on there that you know, call them and say ‘Hey, let me ask you something, what was going on in your head and what did they say to you?’ Because people told me what they were told by the two individuals getting signatures and they basically outright lied. No one was told, that I talked to, no one was told that this would effect the current contracts.”

“I was told by somebody that I was behind it,” said Councilwoman King.

“ I had a couple of people said to me “You are supportive of this, and I said, Oh really?,” said Councilwoman Kegelman, “And they said, ‘Your name was used.’ Hey, I didn’t know that.”

Councilman Maccanico then deferred to Borough Attorney Raffetto: “How does this effect the current contracts? The only one affected is the police, correct?”

“Well, if there was a salary freeze, it would affect the police. It would effect the DPW employees for 2009,” responded Mr. Raffetto. “As well as anyone who had a contract such as the head of the department of public works, Mr. Herner. So we would essentially be breaching those agreements.”

“And so any of those people would then have grounds to sue us?” asked Councilwoman Crippen.

“Correct,” replied Mr. Raffetto.

Councilwoman Crippen then asked, “Let me ask you something: if at that point, the Council voted to plead no contest, could we just pay them their raises? Because obviously there is no contest, we do have signed agreements with these people, we owe them the money, we have to pay them, so do you let it go to court and have a judge order it, or do you just up front say ‘No contest, let’s give them their raises’?”

Borough Attorney Raffetto responded: “Well, obviously labor counsel is going to be weighing in on this but I did have opportunity to speak with him today and he likewise as I feel, is very concerned about your potential exposure in litigation if you were to move forward with wage freezes during the years in question (2009 and 2010) when you have binding contracts that provide for increases. So in terms of your being able to plead no contest, I would defer to labor counsel to give you advice on how to properly proceed if we get to that point.”

“They want us to freeze the 7.7% {that that police are getting},” said Councilwoman Cindea. “And that is basically what the petition is about, and it’s incorrect. It doesn’t pertain to the police: It doesn’t pertain to the DPW, for some reason, even though he [Councilman Brennan] said that, the public thinks it…” Councilwoman Cindea began.

“Well, they lumped it all together,” said Councilman Maccanico.

“It pertains to a few people who are classified as confidential or managerial employees,” said Councilwoman Cindea. After discussing the matter further, Councilwoman Cindea concluded, “You can turn blue saying this, you cannot do a freeze – it is not legally possible to do a freeze — in 2009 and 2010.”

If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can read and download the petitions and ask the signers themselves, “What did they say to you?” to get them to sign.

 First Petiton and Signers July 2010

Second Petition and Signers August 2010

Heights Online would love to share your petition stories with our readers. You may submit stories to: SLHeights@gmail.com. Please include your name and phone number for confirmation. We will keep your information confidential.

Council Debates Whether or Not to Honor Public Works Contract

Borough Treats Two Collective Bargaining Units Differently

August 18 meeting, continued.

 Council President Gavino Maccanico, presiding over the meeting, introduced the next agenda item. This was a memo from Colleen Lapp, the Chief Financial Officer of the Borough, seeking guidance on how to proceed with paying employees who have contracts. Currently, the police are being paid their raises for 2009 and 2010, but other contractual employees are not.

 “This letter is basically about the fact that she sent me an e-mail a long time ago, after the first petition and we rescinded and about paying the public works guys, because they have a collective bargaining agreement,” explained Councilwoman Cindea.

 “In early 2009, the police came to Colleen about the fact that they have a 3.85% raise and there was a legal opinion that was obtained from Mr. Dorf, the labor attorney at that time about whether or not the police could start receiving their raises, even though a Salary & Wage Ordinance had not been passed. And Mr. Dorf was of the opinion, that yes, they could receive their raises because it was an agreement that had been made by the Council, however, please hurry up and pass your 2009 salary & wage ordinance.

 “So, at this late date, we still have not passed a 2009 thanks to John Brennan, and by virtue of that fact, we are treating two collective bargaining agreements – units — differently. So she said we have to rectify this. We need to either take back the 7.7% raise from the police, or give the police and the DPW [their contracted raises].

 “I spoke with labor counsel today as well as Fred who is also copied in, but labor counsel feels that because we have a history for the past year and over a half of paying the police, we should continue to do so to in an effort to stop any potential lawsuits that will probably come from every single member of the force.

 “And we just have to … unfortunately, the public works are just going to have to wait until John Brennan decides he wants to stop this and grow up and come back onto the dais as a grown man.

 Council President Maccanico asked that Councilman Brennan be left out of the discussion, as he was absent from the meeting.

 Councilwoman Kegelman asked if it was Council’s intention to continue to pay the police, or to withdraw the raises they have been given.

 Councilwoman Cindea responded, “We have to make a decision on what we want to do. We have been advised by Council to … he [labor attorney Jamie Plosia] agrees that it is not right and he agreed that there is an equality issue. He said that the statute that is prefaced in the petition does not even relate to the police or public works, most of the office workers.

 “All of these people are getting hurt. It relates to just a few people. His option is that if we do this again, we do make two different salary and wage ordinances. One with the people who are not classified, who don’t apply to the petition, so the public works can get paid, the office staff that it doesn’t apply to get paid, the people in the court can get paid. Then, of course, we would also, as Fred said tonight we make one just for the police chief, which is just sheer craziness – we will have 3 different Salary & Wage Ordinances because John Brennan was removed as finance chair.

 “And every time you propose an ordinance, the ordinance itself costs money,” Councilwoman Crippen, who chairs the Council’s Legislative Committee, pointed out. “It costs money to advertise it, it costs money to put it together, the lawyers have to review it. We might as well just take the money and go outside and throw it in the gutter. Except then we’d violate the stormwater permit.”

 Councilwoman Kegelman then asked for clarification on what the Council was actually voting on, if it was just to receive and file Ms. Lapp’s memo, or if the Council would be voting at this meeting to pay the police and not pay the public works.

 Councilwoman Cindea said, “No, we are just voting to receive and then that [rescinding] will be another discussion. We have to look into in a bit further. We still have a few e-mails going back and forth.”

 “We need some guidance on what to do,” said Council President Maccanico.

 “We certainly want to make sure that the governing body is aware of how and what is going on,” noted Borough Clerk Theresa Casagrande. “Certainly Councilwoman Cindea has spoken to the fact that she has been advised by labor council that we should continue to pay the police the same as we have paid in the past, that nobody else should be paid absent a Salary & Wage Ordinance and I would point out that Colleen has asked me to certainly point out to the governing body that deciding who is a managerial, executive, or confidential employee will not be as easy as black and white, either, because then you get into a discussion about is a foreman managerial?”

 Councilwoman Kegelman noted that, “We are going to have to spend some more money.”

 Councilwoman Cindea agreed. “We need to get a legal opinion on every single position as to whether or not a foreman is a managerial employee.”

“Who is a confidential employee in the office, one can make the claim they have access to certain information, It just is not black and white, you just can’t say you are managerial or confidential and you are not,” explained Clerk Casagrande.

 “So you could say that Mary Ellen is confidential because occasionally she handles paperwork that might be personal,” Councilwoman Crippen said.

 “Presently opens all the mail,” Clerk Casagrande noted.

 “Which is why you want the clerk to do that,” Councilwoman Crippen concluded.

 “And then they will go out and get signatures just to continue,” said Councilwoman Cindea. “I think even we try and put Dave Petriken up there, they will do it again. They will go knock on doors and continue their political posturing.”

 Councilwoman Cindea went on to say that it wasn’t the governing body did not want the input of the public, but that “these salary increases that we are doing are contractual and statutory obligations that our town has. It is our name. If I go into a contract with somebody in my home, and I say I will pay this much money, and the idea that I am going to be so dishonorable not to live up to what I promised.

 “And the idea that anyone would vote against the salary and wage ordinances that I put forth which are just to live up to our contractual obligations, shows, well, what are you doing?

“You are going to drag our name, Spring Lake Heights, through the mud by saying we are not going to honor contracts that maybe someone up here on the dais didn’t vote for. 

 “And all the changes I made in the last salary ordinance from what John proposed — two changes – one to make the tax assessor fair and equitable with all the other protected persons down from 3.85% to 1.5%. And I gave Mr. Herner his 2.5% raise because he has a contract, and it wasn’t a contract that I voted for.

 The Borough Attorney then corrected Councilwoman Cindea to say he thought she meant the tax collector, not the assessor.

 “Oh, tax collector, yes, who is related to Jack Tully,” the Councilwoman noted.

 The Council voted to receive and file Ms. Lapp’s memo.

Council Discusses How to Handle Raises for Police Chief

At the August 18 special meeting of the SLHeights Borough Council, Council members discussed how Police Chief David Petriken was effected by the recently filed petition that seeks to freeze his salary, along with all Borough workers, despite his contract.

Councilwoman Sara King began the discussion, saying, “I can’t even imagine why at this point anybody would want to continue to burden that fellow. He stood up here with his family in January, was sworn in, thought he had a contract, thought he had a legitimate contract, thought he was going to be paid in May, then thought he would be paid in 30 days, had been continuously promised at different intervals, it was May, it was going to be another 20 days, and now we come up with a petition and it is put off, and yet the very person who signed this letter [submitting the petitiobn], stood here and said ‘the only person I would want to see get this raise is Chief Petriken.’

“First of all,” she continued, “I don’t think that Mr. Vorbach understood or if he did understand, then maybe it was a little naivite on his part, but Dave is absolutely affected by this petition. And back in the end of December when we were trying to settle things with that existing chief, who was Mark Steets, at the 13th hour we had a very quick Council meeting and changed things around so that he could get his money so that it was not under the Salary & Wage concept. Can we do something for Dave Petriken along those lines?”

Borough Attorney Raffetto responded, “To answer your question, the payment of the retro monies that are due and owed to Chief Petriken under the settlement of the litigation that we reached with him is considered to be the payment of salaries and wages to Chief Petriken. The only way that we can pay salaries and wages to him is upon adoption of a salary and wage ordinance.

“ I will differentiate that with the payment that was made to the former Chief, because the payment that was made to former Chief Steets was in consideration for his retirement, it was not considered to be salaries and wages. It was a buy-out or severance if you will. There is case law upon which we relied upon at that point in time and precedent where there had been similar agreements that had been approved with other municipal officials in other towns and it was not considered by the courts to be the setting of salaries and wages but rather was a buy-out or severance in consideration of that person resigning from that position. And it was based upon that case precedent that I felt comfortable in moving forward with the payment of funds to former Chief Steets.

“But I cannot likewise represent to you that we can do that with current Chief Petriken. The only possible option that I would recommend to you is, in order to remove Dave from the fray, if you will, of getting wrapped up with all the other employees, you could potentially consider an ordinance that would set Chief Petriken’s salary both for … well, I believe it would go back to 2008, 09, and 10, and make it a separate ordinance just for the chief. I don’t imagine you would have a petition filed against those ordinances because I think all those who have been spearheading these efforts with the petitions are in agreement with you that they would like to see the Chief paid his retro funds.

“So it would just be taking him separately in his own ordinance, or ordinances, for ’08, ’09, and ’10, with a first reading, a second reading, you have to wait the 20 days to see if another petition does come in because he is considered to be a managerial, confidential, executive employee and once we get beyond that period, he could be paid his retro.

“The problem is that he is lumped in with all the other employees and the petitions have come in and the ordinances have been rescinded. So that is the only possible option as I see it to be able to move forward with the retro payments.”

Councilwoman Crippen asked, “If you passed an ordinance that just picked out one employee, wouldn’t that open us up to discrimination suits? Because why are you just cherry-picking one person and saying you can have your raise but everybody else who has a contract can’t have theirs?” “

Well, also it is the highest paid person in the salary and wages,” Councilwoman Cindea pointed out.

“His raise is probably more than the whole of public works today,” noted Councilwoman Kegelman.

“Exactly,” agreed Councilwoman Cindea.

“ And that is why this is so political,” Councilwoman Kegelman said. “t is almost like we are on a Saturday Night Live show.”

Councilwoman Crippen went on to explain, “I love Dave and I’m very upset for him. I feel badly for him because of this and I would love to see him get his money but I just don’t want to set us up for other lawsuits.”

“I feel badly for the guys who pick up our garbage, too,” Councilwoman Kegelman noted.

“We are looking at enough lawsuits now to kill us, we don’t need more,” Councilwoman Crippen said.

Borough Attorney Raffetto closed by saying that, “I just want to indicate that I would think that you have adequate means to be able to countermand an argument of that nature because of the fact that you settled litigation with him and this relates to an obligation of the municipality to move forward in good faith to honor the settlement that you reached with him.”

Council President Maccanico, who presided over the meeting in Mayor Enright’s absence,  thanked Mr. Raffetto and asked that the petition correspondence be accepted and filed.

Borough Faces Potential Lawsuits in Current Petition Issues

The SLH Borough Council met in special session on Wednesday, August 18, to discuss the recent petition against the 2009 and 2010 Salary & Wage Ordinances and the potential lawsuits that the Borough faces from the petition.

The first order of business at the special meeting was to receive and file a petition submitted by Democratic Council candidate, Thomas Vorbach. This was the same petition previously received by the Council. Since it was overturned the first time, Mr. Vorbach and Councilman John Brennan gathered signatures and submitted the petition a second time.

Present were Council President Gavino “Butch” Maccanico, Finance Chair Councilwoman Patricia Cindea, Councilwomen Sara King, Lynn Kegelman, and Kathleen Crippen. Mayor H. Frances Enright and Councilman John P. Brennan were absent.

Given the magnitude of potential legal issues, and the supposed interest by the residents in supporting the petition, it was surprising that the audience included only two members of the public, along with Coast Star reporter and SLH resident, Katie Lobosco.

Councilman Maccanico expressed concern that a number of residents were represented in the signatures presented on the petition. He wondered if their voices were being heard properly.

Councilwoman Kegelman noted that, “A lot of this has to do with the eleven people getting the hundred thousand plus.”

At a previous meeting, it was pointed out that 10 of the 11 employees making over 100 thousand dollars a year were on the police force. The 11th employee is the Director of Public Works.

Councilwoman Kegelman went on to explain that, “This is ruling by anarchy.” Noting that the petition cover letter left it open to the governing body to decide on the wording of a potential ballot question, she said, “Say we phrase it non-political, now do we say ‘Do you want your taxes raised?:’ I don’t want my taxes raised.”

She pointed out that, “If we put that question to the public, it is a non-binding referendum; it is ruling by anarchy. It sounds good, if you want to get a feeling of the pulse when you are buying the Fletcher property or Mount Laurel or open space, that is proactive and looking to the future. This is running the town in day to day business.”

“The people that signed it [ the petition ] are caring people, they are intelligent people,” Councilwoman Kegelman said, addressing the fact that people who should have known better had signed the petition.” But I’m not sure they were given appropriate information to make a thoughtful decision, so that is the vacuum.”

She noted of those who circulated the petition that: “We are playing political games so we [those that circulated the petition] can get every one shaken up, and say ‘we’re the good guys, we’re for lower taxes.’ But you know what, would any of us [on Council] not lower taxes if it was in our purview, because I’d rather keep my money?”

Councilwoman Cindea noted that: “He [Councilman Brennan ] voted against a zero tax budget, and then voted against adding the same amount of surplus that his budget had, and then complained that we didn’t use less  surplus but when I gave him the option to use less surplus, he voted against it.”

Councilwoman Kegelman pointed out that, “The mayor, who is part of the group that is supporting this, as well as Mr. Brennan, voted against Mr. Tully, the Democratic candidate, who came here and addressed us that we were being reckless if we did not decrease the surplus. We then offered a motion to decrease the surplus, and Mr. Brennan voted against. So evidently they don’t know where they are going. What we need to do is just rescind the ordinance and just give it time and let’s see what shakes out.”

Councilwoman Crippen then asked Council President Maccanico, “I wanted to ask you, Butch, did you contact any of those people [who signed the petition]?”

Councilman Maccanico replied that he had not.

“Okay, well, I did,” said Councilwoman Crippen. “Because I saw some names on there that I was surprised, one of whom was a person who was affected by this and who said “yeah, yeah this is great, I don’t want to see people going forward getting raises. And I said ‘that isn’t what this is about.’ I said, it is holding up the existing contracts and he said that isn’t what they told me, they said it is to prevent people in the future from getting 10 and 12 percent increases. “

And I said, ‘That is not what it is about, it is to break the existing contracts and we are going to get our asses sued,’ and he was appalled … So I would suggest that people call, if you have names of people on there that you know, call them and say ‘Hey, let me ask you something, what was going on in your head and what did they say to you?’ Because people told me what they were told by the two individuals getting signatures and they basically outright lied. No one was told, that I talked to, no one was told that this would effect the current contracts.”

“I was told by somebody that I was behind it,” said Councilwoman King.

“ I had a couple of people said to me “You are supportive of this, and I said, Oh really?,” said Councilwoman Kegelman, “And they said, ‘Your name was used.’ Hey, I didn’t know that.”

Councilman Maccanico then deferred to Borough Attorney Raffetto: “How does this effect the current contracts? The only one it affected is the police, correct?”

“Well, if there was a salary freeze, it would affect the police. It would effect the DPW employees for 2009,” responded Mr. Raffetto. “As well as anyone who had a contract such as the head of the department of public works, Mr. Herner. So we would essentially be breaching those agreements.”

“And so any of those people would then have grounds to sue us?” asked Councilwoman Crippen.

“Correct,” replied Mr. Raffetto.

Councilwoman Crippen then asked, “Let me ask you something: if at that point, the Council voted to plead no contest, could we just pay them their raises? Because obviously there is no contest, we do have signed agreements with these people, we owe them the money, we have to pay them, so do you let it go to court and have a judge order it, or do you just up front say ‘No contest, let’s give them their raises’?”

Borough Attorney Raffetto responded: “Well, obviously labor counsel is going to be weighing in on this but I did have opportunity to speak with him today and he likewise as I feel, is very concerned about your potential exposure in litigation if you were to move forward with wage freezes during the years in question (2009 and 2010) when you have binding contracts that provide for increases. So in terms of your being able to plead no contest, I would defer to labor counsel to give you advice on how to properly proceed if we get to that point.”

“They want us to freeze the 7.7% {that that police are getting},” said Councilwoman Cindea. “And that is basically what the petition is about, and it’s incorrect. It doesn’t pertain to the police: It doesn’t pertain to the DPW, for some reason, even though he [Councilman Brennan] said that, the public thinks it is…” Councilwoman Cindea began.

“Well, they lumped it all together,” said Councilman Maccanico.

“It pertains to a few people who are classified as confidential or managerial employees,” remarked Councilwoman Cindea.

Councilwoman Kegelman noted that, “If there was one person making one hundred thousand in public works…it wouldn’t make the media attention … But we have 11 people in the town making over 100 thousand. My husband is appalled, he said people in New York City don’t make that much, but that is not what we are talking about here.”

“They’ve got their raises. They are being paid their 3.85% raises,” said Councilwoman Cindea, referring to the police and their multi-year contract.

“I would call the attention that the member who is not here,” pointed out Councilwoman Kegelman. “We were elected to represent the town in what we consider what is best for the town. And the vote here is how we represent the town. So, you can run a petition and yet people would say, well, I never voted for that, I did not vote for you, because I am not here to vote tonight. Mr. Brennan.   So he can go back to all the people and say, “wasn’t me, I didn’t vote for them.’ He might have run the petition around to cause this havoc because he just wants to cause havoc.”

“Well, I think as we have noted in the past that Mr. Brennan has a tendency to miss all the important votes up here,” noted Councilwoman Crippen.

“Also, his activity is the reason why we are here in the first place and I think that it really does speak to the political nature that he does not care. He’s out there with his political agenda. He is blatantly misleading nice people,” said Councilwoman Cindea. “For some reason, I think they think is going to go politically go well for them in November. But we’re not talking about fiscally irresponsible raises by virtue of the fact that we have a zero budget this year and we could have had a zero budget giving a higher raises than the current Salary and Wage Ordinance.”

“How could it go politically well for anyone when they are now setting the town up to be liable in all these lawsuits? It has already cost more than it would have cost to pay the raises out. And now you are going to break the police contract? The PBA will be in here tomorrow. But that is what they want, that is what they want – freeze everybody.”

“You can turn blue saying this, you cannot do a freeze – it is not legally possible to do a freeze — in 2009 and 2010,” said Councilwoman Cindea.

Councilwoman Crippen noted that no one seemed to care about the legalities. She indicated the people seem to think the Council can break all the contracts and then let the Borough get sued, which the taxpayers would pay for. “That is ridiculous,” she said.

Councilwoman King then asked, “I have a question for Fred. In all of this craziness we are going through, even Mr. Vorbach back in July stood here in front of the Council and said that he didn’t want to see the police chief  — he was the only one he wanted to see get his raise. So I asked the question – is there any way that Dave Petriken can be set aside to get the money he is owed? This man has been since 2007 without any kind of an increase.

“I can’t even imagine why at this point anybody would want to continue to burden that fellow. He stood up here with his family in January, was sworn in, thought he had a contract, thought he had a legitimate contract, thought he was going to be paid in May, thought he would be paid in 30 days, had been continuously promised at different intervals, it was May, it was going to be another 20 days, and now there is a petition and it is put off, and yet the very person that signed this letter, stood here and said ‘the only person I would want to see get this raise is Chief Petriken.’

Will the Council vote to give Chief Petriken his raise? Tune in tomorrow for another chapter of “Heights Online,” taken directly from the recordings of the SLH Council meetings.

Petition Again Seeks to Overturn Contracts with Borough Employees

For the second time this summer, a petition has been submitted to prevent contracted employees from receiving the pay increases the Borough is obligated to pay them.

A previous petition resulted in over $20,000 of legal fees to the Borough. That petition was overturned when the proposed 2009 and 2010 Salary & Wage Ordinances were rescinded and new ordinances passed in their places.

Residents reported that they were told the petition was only a protest again higher government salaries. In truth, the petition seeks to prevent an “… increase in the salaries, wages or compensation of managerial, executive or confidential employees for 2009 and 2010.” 

Almost all Borough employees have either signed contracts or memorandums of agreement for 2009 and 2010, citing their salaries for those years. If the Borough does not pay those contractually obligated salaries, the employees may sue the Borough for breaking their contracts.

Currently, the police department contract ensures a 3.85% pay increase for 2009 and 2010. The public works department ensures a 1.5% salary increase for 2009 and a zero increase in 2010.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Art Herner has a contract agreeing to a 2.5% increase. The contract covers the years 2008 2009 and 2010. Chief of Police David Petriken likewise has contractual salary increases which have been held up by the petitions.

Additionally, under New Jersey state law, 4 job titles — tax assessor, tax collector, Borough clerk, and chief financial officer — are required to be paid the same raise that other employees are receiving. During the first petition drive, two legal opinions were received confirming that the raises given these employees match the highest raises granted other employees. Initially, these employees were to be given the same 3.85% pay increase as the police. However, Chair of Finance Patricia Cindea is hoping to use the first petition to show cause and reduced the raises for these employees to the same 1.5% that the public works employees will receive.

The only employees prevented from receiving raises in 2009 and 2010 have been the crossing guards, who would have been granted a 1.5% increase, along with the municipal judge, the prosecutor, and the secretaries in the Borough Hall offices. In total, their raises would have amounted to less than $10,000.

It is notable that Mayor Fran Enright, the Chair of the SLH Democratic Party, did not support either petition.

The Borough Council will meet on Wednesday, August 18th at 6:30 PM in a special session to again rescind the current 2009 and 2010 Salary & Wage Ordinances and to propose new versions. Public hearings of those new versions are scheduled for Thursday, September 2.

Council clarifies pay raise issue

The Spring Lake Heights Borough Council met Monday, July 26. One item of business was the introduction of a new 2010 Salary and Wage Ordinance. The original ordinance, introduced in June, was rescinded before it actually became law.

The new ordinance removed salary increases for all employees with whom the Borough does not have a signed contract. These include the crossing guards, the municipal judge, and the prosecutor. Additionally, the new ordinance seeks a lower salary increase of 1.5% for the 4 so-called “statutory employees”—the tax assessor, tax collector, municipal clerk, and chief financial officer.

Under New Jersey State law, these 4 positions are guaranteed a raise when any other employee in the borough receives a raise. Although the Council received two legal opinions stating that raises for the statutory employees must match the highest raises given, the new ordinance takes the stance that a recent petition drive may provide “cause” to support a lower increase.

During the public hearing for the new ordinance, Lake Avenue resident Andy Zelenak asked a series of questions about the events which led up to the rescinding of the one ordinance and its replacement. First, Mr. Zelenak asked for the Council’s position on furloughs. Councilwoman Cindea indicated that furloughs would not be effective for the Borough as the staff is so small, having people not report for work would only increase overtime for those who did work.

Mr. Zelenak then asked about Councilwoman Cindea’s earlier comments about freezing salaries in 2011 and 2012. Councilwoman Cindea cited the fact that the police contract would be up for renewal and the Council hoped to negotiate a two-year contract with no salary increases. Additionally, she hope to negotiate other “give-backs” such as no raises to longevity.

Referring to a recent petition drive by Borough Council candidate Thomas Vorbach which sought to prevent pay increases, Councilwoman Cindea noted that the police are already the “high income earners” for the Borough. She felt it was absurd for Vorbach to come before the Council and say that the petition did not apply to the police who are guaranteed a 3.85% pay increase.

Mr. Zelenak commented, “I can’t speak for Mr. Vorbach, but I think what he is saying is that they [the police] have  a contract.”

“So do a lot of other people,” Councilwoman Cindea responded.

Mr. Zelenak then sought to clarify this. “Here is what I don’t understand,” he remarked, “ The police have a 3.85% and because they have the 3.85%, the 4 statutory employees get the same increase, is that correct?”

Councilwoman Cindea confirmed this, adding, “And that is according to two legal opinions.”

Zelenak continued, “But the public works guys, what is their legal situation? Do we have to give them a raise because the cops are getting a raise?”

Councilwoman Cindea, Councilwoman King, and Mayor Enright all sought to answer the question, saying “No, they have a contract. They have a contract; they have a collective bargaining agreement.”

“But that expired,” Mr. Zelenak said.

Councilman Brennan noted, “It expires at the end of this year, in December.”

Councilwoman Cindea expanded on this, saying, “Everything expires at the end of this year, the public works, the supervisor of public works [contract] ends this year. I figured out last year, let’s do a little bit now, but we would play hardball in 2011 and 2012.”

“ So we have a contract with public works through the end of this year. What does the contract say as far as a raise?,” Zelenak asked.

“1.5% in 2009 and zero in 2010. And then it will be zero in 2011 and 2012,” Councilwoman Cindea responded.

“ So ’09 and ’10 are one-and-a-half and zero, is that what you are voting on now?,” Zelenak asked.

Councilwoman Cindea explained, “No, its already done. It was in April or early May

“ But that is what the petition was about, wasn’t it?,” asked Zelenak.

Several of the Council people and the Mayor responded no.

“ Oh, I think that is what the petition was about,” Mr. Zelenak continued.

Noting that a contract is a signed agreement, Mayor Enright pointed out that a petition can’t be about a contract.

Councilwoman Cindea went on to explain that: “The funny thing is that if the petition went forward and we didn’t repeal anything, the guys on the public works all would have been paid on July 16.” She explained that since the petition cited employees that were “managerial or confidential,” employees not in these classes would have been paid.

The Borough incurred legal fees in obtaining opinions as to what employees fell into what classes and who would be affected by the petition. “Everybody wanted a legal opinion now, whether they are managerial or confidential, and they would have been paid, unless I repealed it [the salary and wage ordinance],” Councilwoman Cindea noted.

Zelenak then asked as to when the public works contract was signed. The municipal clerk indicated that the contract had been signed sometime around April. “I’m just trying to get my facts in order, that’s all,” he said.

Councilman Brennan then explained his position on the petition, saying he felt that it did not related to just the “managerial or confidential” employees, but to all workers. “It seems to me,” he remarked, “ There is a pretty strong argument to be made that if the people vote down the salary and wage ordinance which applies to everyone across the board, it seems that the people have spoken pretty loudly.”

However, there is no case law that would support this argument. Councilwoman Cindea pointed out to Mr. Zelenak, “See about the argument … he wants to argue about everything, that is the problem we are having.”

Mr. Zelenak replied, “I’m getting two different answers here. And my question is, which one is true?”

He then asked, “You all signed a contract with public works and the end of April or thereabouts, and then a petition went out, 400 people signed it, and then tonight you repealed the contract?”

Councilwomen Lynn Kegelman responded, “No, we did not repeal the contract.”

Mayor Enright agreed, “You cannot repeal a contract.”

Councilwoman Cindea explained, “The salary and wage ordinance was repealed and was changed. The contractual obligations of the town cannot be changed; none of those salaries can be changed.”

“We are taking a gamble on the statutory employees. We have 45 days on whether or not they will sue the town,” Councilwoman Cindea added, referring to the time frame that those 4 employees would need to protest the lower salary in.

“So what you did tonight had nothing to do with the public works department whatsoever, just the statutory employees?” Mr. Zelenak asked.

Councilman Brennan abruptly said, “So let’s talk about Art Herner for a second; why is there a raise for Art Herner in the 2009 and 2010 S&W ordinances?”

At this, the mayor and other Council members responded: “Because he has a contract.”

Councilman Brennan continued: “Because the people who drafted the ordinance and are voting in favor of that ordinance believe that he should have that 2.5% raise. Now they say it is because he has a contract. However, a contract isn’t the final word. A contract by one council binding a future council can only be implemented by the enactment of the S&W ordinances in the future. Well if the voters vote down the salary and wage ordinance, the question is. does the contract control? Or does the vote of the people control? And I am on the side of the vote of the people.”

However, it should be noted again that there is no case law that supports this point of view. Councilwoman Cindea commenting that we do not have “binding initiative and referendum,” went on to say: “We don’t want to give these raises. This is what is so crazy. We are giving the raises because they are by contract.”

She noted that one non-contractual employee who worked for the Court office had not had a raise in 7 years and recently left the Borough to take a higher-paying position in another town.

Mr. Zelenak commented, “I don’t believe in initiative and referendum anyway; I’m not a man for the public voting on things. We elect our representatives to negotiate raises for us.” Many people in the audience applauded this sentiment.

He then went on to confirm, “So all we are concerned about now are the 4 statutory employees. Is that correct?”

Councilman Brennan interjected, “What they did, they eliminated raises for additional people like the judge and the prosecutor … and a number of other people.” Among these other positions were the crossing guards, who will continue to be paid $13.00 an hour. On the original Salary and Wage Ordinance proposed, they would also have gotten a 1.5% increase.

Mr. Zelenak noted that the new ordinance eliminated all minor raises, as these employees do not have contracts with the Borough.

Councilwoman Cindea noted that many of the changes she adopted in the new ordinance were taken from the draft budget Councilman Brennan had proposed when he held the post of Finance Chair. “It is even less that what Mr. Brennan proposed,” she noted.

“Except that the tax collector, he was going to give her a 3.85% raise but I brought that down to 1.5% like the other statutory employees,” explained Councilwoman Cindea.

Councilwoman Kegelman then pointed out, “if you take this to the full level, then any multi-year contract with the police, if we were going to freeze their salaries for two or three years, we shouldn’t abide by that because we don’t have the power. Hopefully, we will not take that under advisement. And if we were going to disenfranchise the public works contract, then why don’t we do it for the police contract?”

Councilwoman Cindea wound up the discussion by stating, “It isn’t even going to change our opinion. We don’t want to give raises. We are doing so because they are contractually obligated or statutorily obligated.”

Mr. Zelenak thanked the governing body for their time.