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February 5 Town Council meeting

A police internal affairs investigation, Prism and downtown redevelopment, and $72,000 in contracts led council meeting.

A police internal affairs investigation, Prism and downtown redevelopment, and more than $72,000 in professional service contracts highlighted the February 5, 2013, town council meeting.

The agenda and related materials are here. (Apologies for the late posting, but I was in New York City on business yesterday.)

The mother of Raymar Leckey, a 22-year-old resident killed in Newark December 31, 2012, as well as two of his friends spoke during the public comment period. They objected to Facebook postings allegedly made by two West Orange police officers that were the subject of two Star-Ledger articles and an ongoing West Orange police internal affairs investigation. The three speakers asked the council and administration to take steps to remove the officers from duty. Business Administrator Jack Sayers said the police department had jurisdiction and was conducting the inquiry.

Mr. Sayers said Prism Capital Partners, the designated downtown redeveloper of the Edison Battery Factory, was issued property-maintenance violations this week related to the fence screen on Main Street that has remained in tatters since Hurricane Sandy. He also said that Prism had not yet complied with a request for information the town made last October, but he said he expected a response soon. (This afternoon, the town clerk e-mailed Prism’s 2011 audited financial statement. I’ll review and post on this when I get a chance.) Mr. Sayers also said he didn’t know if Prism had paid its February 1 property taxes.

During consideration of the administration’s request to hire Bashkoff Enterprises for a $12,000 annual contract to handle the town’s social media, including the town’s Facebook page, I pointed out that Perry Bashkoff, one of the two principals in the company, had posted an obscenity on his personal Facebook page. Mr. Bashkoff, who attended the council meeting, didn’t apologize; instead he made a distinction between his professional and personal Facebook activities (although the obscenity was used on his personal Facebook page about an artist he represents professionally). Because I sent an image of the offensive posting to the council and administration ahead of the council meeting, the post was modified to delete the obscenity later in the day.

I also pointed out that the Bashkoff proposal indicated the other partner, chief executive Rick Bashkoff, was a vice president for Howcast Media – but the company’s website did not list him as a vice president, although it did list another vice president. Mr. Bashkoff said that Rick Bashkoff was employed at Howcast and that he didn’t know why that wasn’t on the website.

I voted against the proposed contract (approved 4-1 by the council) on the basis of the obscenity and the fact that the two principals were full-time employed at other jobs -- and potentially not available to post on the town Facebook page in a timely manner. I also pointed out that the town had dismissed its previous social media vendor but was still able to manage posts to the page for more than six months without paying anyone to do so. Given our budget pressures, I feel we should look for anywhere we can save money aside from top priorities.

I also voted against the $15,000 annual contract to Direct Ignition to provide marketing services in a renewal of its contract. Marketing is part of my professional expertise. I believe this contract is not a good use of our money, primarily because the vendor’s principal, while an accomplished art director and videographer, does not have the appropriate marketing experience or expertise that I can discern. The council approved this contract 4-1.

In other action, the council approved:

- $30,380 to Herbst Musciano, Architects, for architectural/engineering services to build the concession stand with restrooms, estimated to cost $350,000, at the high school. The vendor had the lowest-priced of three proposals. The building is planned for the southern end of football field, including a walkway to the baseball field. I opposed this contract because I believe the project is not a priority given our difficult financial situation.

- $15,300 to Keller and Kirkpatrick for engineering and survey services for road and drainage improvements on Mountain Drive and Highwood Road, at an estimated project cost of $600,000. I voted against this contract, because the proposed vendor was not the low bidder.

- A resolution to cancel the town’s interlocal agreement to provide animal control services for Roseland. Roseland has declined to agree to an indemnification of West Orange for the renewal contract, according to the resolution. The contract would provide $10,123 to the town annually.

- A request to the council to authorize applying for and accepting a matching $5,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the state’s Office of Emergency Management to enhance the town’s ability to protect against terrorism, natural disasters and other catastrophes. The town contributes another $5,000 in kind (not monetary, but in services).

- A proposed ordinance on first reading to change the location of two handicapped parking spaces on Llewellyn Avenue and Longview Street.

- Requested authorization for the auction of 20 abandoned cars on February 19.

- Holding the 2013 statutory budget hearing on Sunday, March 3, 9 a.m. and, if necessary, Saturday, March 9, 9 a.m. The council will review each item of proposed spending in a lengthy hearing.

During public comment, a resident of Oak Avenue raised concerns about noise from the adjoining Turtle Back Rock recreation area when the county adds soccer and baseball fields. Another resident continued to question the accuracy of legal bills relating to Prism that mention two council members, as well as compliance with property tax currency with Planning Board applications.

I’m a West Orange Township councilman since 2010 and can be reached at jkrakoviak@westorange.org. A former financial journalist, in my spare time I’m a business communications consultant.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jack February 09, 2013 at 04:06 AM
If the council voted 4-1 in favor of Bashkoff and Sutherland, and the PRC voted unanimously to recommend them along with the town information officer, I'm thinking you're wrong.
Alex Sohn February 09, 2013 at 09:59 PM
The four Council members consistently vote in favor of spending more of the taxpayers' money. I can't remember a vote where they said "no". I was surprised with the ease with which they voted 4-1 in favor of a 17% raise for the RMC recently. If the RMC had a bona fide offer from Millburn Twp for 17% more than she was paid in West Orange, the sane course would have been to wish her well and start looking for a new applicant. At $89K, our RMC, with 9 years of professional experience, was already well into the 90th percentile of salary for clerks in NJ, We now have the second highest paid RMC in the area (only Mr. Turtletaub in Livingston earns more ($111K) with 21 years of professional experience). The incumbent in Millburn was earning $103K after 26 years of experience. Here are some salary/YPE pairs for your consideration: Verona $72K/25 years, S. Orange $76K/11 years, Essex Fells $85K/19 years, West Orange $89K/9 years. The Council majority voted in favor of the last marketing professionals and that, apparently, didn't work out to the taxpayers' advantage so here we are throwing more tax money at something that could be had for free. There is too much friend-of-a-friend-of-friend spending going on in today's tough fiscal environment (tough for the property tax paying residents, at least). It's time for the Council to wake up and rein the spending.
Gary Englert February 10, 2013 at 02:20 AM
Alex Sohn: Absent from your review of local Registered Municipal Clerk salaries was any acknowledgement that the municipalities with which you compare West Orange are a fraction of its size and complexity. Also lacking is any analysis of the market for such professionals, who do require very specific certification/licensing to serve in what is a constitutionally mandated position. All fine and well to suggest that there are qualified candidates waiting in the wings who can be had cheaper but, are there any? That said, while Mr. Krakoviak takes some pride (and undoubtedly enjoys some public support) for his regularly being the lone dissenting vote on what are generally viewed as rather routine and mundane expenditures, I'd be most curious to see an accounting of the total savings (and what effect they would have had on anyone's tax bill) had he been successful in convincing his colleagues to drink his particular brand of Kool Aid. While I'd freely admit if I'm wrong, I don't think we'd be talking about any significant amount of money in the broad scheme of things...and I am also totally unaware of any intiative offered by Mr. Krakoviak (since his election) that has resulted in any significant economies in the operation of local government.
Status Quo February 10, 2013 at 02:24 AM
@Alex Sohn: You're close but not completely accurate. The clerk's salary was actually increased 23% or so to $117K. I checked the public employee database and the numbers are old. Perhaps our RMC is now *the* highest compensated clerk in the area. I suppose the majority of the Council reckons that our RMC is irreplaceable but I would disagree. Many taxpayers in town are suffering from the economic downturn and having trouble meeting their expenses. Such a cavalier move by the Council majority at this time is almost laughable.
Jack February 10, 2013 at 03:46 AM
So what this has to do with the personal attack and judgments Joe K. made maligning West Orange residents is....?
Alex Sohn February 10, 2013 at 04:47 AM
I'm guessing that Millburn's RMC is retiring after 26 years. Millburn simply advertised the vacancy and our very own RMC was available, applied, and was (ostensibly) offered a position in Millburn. If you've done the market survey, please share your findings. I would guess that if WO Twp advertised the local position at the generous salary of $89K, there would be qualified applicants coming forward. In the meantime, we have a competent deputy clerk who would be able to fill in until a suitable candidate is found and hired to permanently fill the position. I doubt that the West Orange clerk was the only applicant for the Millburn position. If she was, what ever will Millburn do? Carry on clerkless? We survived Ms O'Hara's retirement; she was a great RMC and she was missed but we were able to cope. In the broad scheme of things this sets a precedent. All a Town Hall employee has to do is threaten to leave for greener pastures and, tada!, an instantaneous 20% raise? That's lunacy. We simply cannot afford to operate that way. Nobody is indispensable. Nobody.
Alex Sohn February 10, 2013 at 04:52 AM
I based my comments on the NJ By the Numbers site. I didn't do extensive research into the current salaries of municipal clerks in neighboring towns but you get the general idea. 17% or 23%, $100K or $117K, the result of the Council's way of doing business is more hardship for the property tax payers. The Mayor has already stated that the days of 0% municipal tax hikes are over.
Gary Englert February 10, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Alex Sohn: Quite out of context with the content of this article and any current matters pending, you chose to revisit the RMC's salary increase, many months after the matter was publicly discussed and decided; Monday morning quarterbacking with the season over and the coach preparing for next. From memory, I'm giving you some of the justifications provided at the time the matter was before the Council...with 4 of 5 seeing the wisdom of voting as they did...and I'm fine with that.
Alex Sohn February 11, 2013 at 11:09 AM
If this is directed toward me, I don't know what "personal attack ... maligning [] residents" by the Councilman you perceived in any of this.
Alex Sohn February 11, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Gary Englert: You don't have to rely on memory as the video of the meeting is available online. There was no mention of a lack of potential applicants possessing the required constitutionally mandated credentials. Nobody cited a market study nor the fact that Millburn (or any other nearby municipality) was a fraction of the size of WO. The justification in these difficult economic circumstances was more along the lines of we like her, she's doing a good job, let's give her the $27K raise. It just strikes me as indicative of the tendency of the majority of the Council to spend the taxpayer's money very freely. Hiring vendors to post on Facebook when we already pay a PIO who can handle that function seems to me a rather frivolous use of taxpayer monies. You disagree and I'm fine with that.
Gary Englert February 11, 2013 at 08:28 PM
Alex Sohn: Among the things not easily discernable when viewing a Council Meeting is the back-up paperwork provided the Council concerning virtually every ordinance put to a vote. This generally includes a written justification for the Administration's proposal and a legislative history concerning the matter. What also isn't apparent are what clarifications (verbal or written) that have been provided the Council members, jointly or severally, on request. Watching the meeting tape isn't going to provide that information after the fact. I do recall that the Clerk's raise was spread over two or more years and that, ultimately, she will not be receiving the salary she would have immediately received, had she gone to Millburn, until some time down the road. All that said, I simply do not believe such decisions are made as lightly as you think as they would open a whole can of worms with other employees if they were. You also need to be mindful that we are a community that adheres to civil service and can't simply alter someone's job description, or assign them additional duties, on a whim. Government simply doesn't work that way. In the case of the PIO, she is not a classified, civil service employee but, has a contract that specifies her duties and compensation. The expectation that anyone should be devoting there time, effort and energies to anything, without compensation, is simply unrealistic...tough times or not.
Alex Sohn February 11, 2013 at 09:05 PM
Gary Englert: What is discernibly obvious is the increasing desperation in your spin. First you say: "From memory, I'm giving you some of the justifications provided at the time the matter was before the Council." Then you claim: "...the back-up paperwork provided the Council ... " sheds some light on the deliberations. There is nothing in the publicly available documents from the Oct 16th meeting that would back up your memory of the justifications. Such deliberations, being a matter of personnel, were conducted in Executive Session. How are you privvy to what was discussed in Executive Session? Do you have some special access to Ms McCartney or Mr. Cirilo such that they leak details to you? The PIO has been devoting time and energy to the social media tasks for the last 6 to 8 months - why is it such a problem to continue in that capacity? Did her attorney advise her to cease and desist?
Gary Englert February 11, 2013 at 09:37 PM
Alex Sohn: I have neither need nor reason to spin this matter in any direction at all; I'm simply recounting what I know to be the standard operating procedures and protocols based on my ten years in government service. At the time this matter (the clerk's salary increase) was being discussed, I had a conversation with someone in a position to answer the questions I had, without their violating any fiduciary responsibility. Should you doubt my veracity and wish to see more than what was detailed on the public agenda, feel free to file an OPRA request for what back-up material is available to the public. As to the PIO handling the social media posting for the "last 6-8 months," if that's the case, then you know more than I. My comments concerning civil servants and contract employees and of a general nature...and remain completely. I can't say who has been performing this task...how much time is devoted to it...and/or how long anyone agreed to do it without being compensated...or if they even did. The bottom line remains, however, that it 's not a chore that can be assigned to a civil servant if it isn't part of their job description or to a contract employee if it isn't part of their's.
Gary Englert February 14, 2013 at 04:55 PM
^ Above should read "are of a general nature...and remain completely accurate and germane."
Joe Krakoviak February 25, 2013 at 01:29 AM
West Orange Grassroots now has the video of the council meeting posted http://bit.ly/Wd7u3P, in a downloadable format that's also indexed so that you know where to look in the video for specific issues.

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