13 Jan Borough Meeting Highlights 1-8-2020
Dear West Wildwood Neighbors,
West Wildwood borough held its first meeting of 2020 on Wednesday, January 8th at 7PM and was attended by approximately 25 taxpayers.
Mayor Fox, Commissioner Golden, Commissioner Korobellis, Solicitor Bittner, Municipal Clerk Donna Frederick & Deputy Clerk Carl O’Hala were in attendance.
The following events took place:
- Many annual housekeeping resolutions were passed including JIF related requirements and appointments for the following positions: Fire Code official, Tax Assessor, Emergency Mgmt & Deputy Emergency Mgmt Coordinators, Planning Board, Deputy Tax Collector, Municipal Representatives to JIF.
- Late agenda items included resolutions advertising for IT support services, formal bids for the reconstruction of Poplar Avenue between Arion and J Avenues, professional services for COAH & Fair Housing & requesting reimbursement of the USDA grant of $30,000 for sanitary sewer expenses and limiting parking to allow mini golf course customers easy access to facility.
- Ordinance 578 (2020) – First reading to issue a $1,750,000 bond for sewer utility improvements on Poplar Avenue along with road, curb & sidewalk work. A special meeting will be held on Thursday, January 23 at 9AM. The bid must be awarded by the end of February to comply with the Department of Transportation (DOT) grant.
- Resolution 2020-013 was passed to officially set the monthly borough meetings at 5PM on the first Wednesday of the month. A request was made to change the day & time to Friday at 5PM during the summer months to accommodate non-residents, but was denied.
- Public Works report was not prepared for the third month in a row. Mayor Fox did, however, thank Joe Segrest for working with the borough to address the missing sewer caps.
- Commissioner Golden read the police report. Please see attached.
The most interesting and heated discussion was on the topic of the change in the borough solicitor. Please pay special attention to the facts shared below.
Historically, the position of solicitor was on a contract or retainer basis. The BOWW was most recently represented by Marcus Karavan at $35,000 per year.
Other counsel was also contracted for specialized matters including labor, COAH, etc., as needed.
Mayor Fox decided to hire Ms. Mary Bittner, most recently solicitor for Wildwood, as a full-time, in-house employee, with a salary of $60,000 per year. The approximate benefits per Mayor Fox will be an additional $15,000, thus giving her a total package of $75,000.
Many questions arose as a result of this change in legal representation and the answers from borough officials appear in italic.
- Was the position advertised, other candidates interviewed, etc? No. Mayor Fox has known Ms. Bittner for many years and worked with her in Wildwood when he was administrator. She recently resigned from Wildwood and was available for hire by BOWW.
- Who will Ms. Bittner report to? Although this is an “unusual” arrangement, the Legal Advisor position falls under Public Works and she reports directly to Mayor Fox.
- Will an in-house attorney be able to maintain an arm’s length relationship with the governing body and provide independent legal advice? For example, what happens if the taxpayers’ have legal issues with the commissioners? Ms. Bittner’s role is to provide legal advice to the board of commissioners, not to the community. If there is an issue within the community, the municipal clerk should be notified and the commissioners will decide if it should be brought to the attention of the legal advisors.
- What are Ms. Bittner’s duties? Draft ordinances & resolutions, review contracts, coordinate with other attorneys working on BOWW matters & review current litigation. No administrative work at this time will be assigned to Ms. Bittner.
- Will Ms. Bittner maintain a private practice or take on other work during her employment with the BOWW? No. She is “devoted” to this community.
- How can the BOWW justify the hiring of a full-time, in-house legal advisor and continue to pay contracted legal services for labor, conflict, COAH, eminent domain? Should not the full-time legal counsel assume these other legal issues to reduce the borough’s total legal expenses? An in-house legal advisor is not unusual. Mayor Fox will decide when and if Ms. Bittner will handle other legal matters. It was requested that Mayor Fox provide examples of other municipalities, similar in size to BOWW, who have full-time, in-house legal counsel. No answer was given.
- Given Ms. Bittner’s previous work for the BOWW, for example, drafting the resolutions related to the Ferentz matter, failure to require J. Ferentz sign an agreement not to sue the BOWW after she was rehired, made whole with wages, benefits, etc., why would the BOWW hire her as full-time, in-house legal advisor? The mayor and both commissioners feel “she is worth her weight in gold”, an “asset” to the borough, and they have the “utmost respect” for her and they believe her advice is honest.
- Commissioner Golden & Korobellis were asked how do they expect the taxpayers to move forward when Ms. Bittner’s hiring will be a constant reminder of the $ 1.7 million lawsuit? Both commissioners support the hiring of Ms. Bittner and feel it will allow us to move forward. Some taxpayers are living in the past.
- Will Ms. Bittner recommend best practices to the commissioners, update the employee handbook regarding supervisor/employee relationships, etc.? Ms. Bittner has not been asked to update the handbook. She will provide no legal opinion or best practices recommendations in a public meeting, only in a private setting and only to the mayor and commissioners.
Other items discussed at the meeting include:
- No movement on Mayor Fox’s ethics violations.
- Employees will receive written evaluations in 2020.
- The trash contract was renewed in September 2019 for 5 years at a significant increase. A public bid was prepared and it was agreed by the mayor & commissioners that Gold Medal (formerly EarthTech) should be the BOWW trash hauler.
- Update on the Living Shoreline Project: The first step is to resolve the eminent domain issue. Our attorney has filed a complaint to be decided by the court. The NJ Coastal Coalition, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (a possible source of funding), The Nature Conservancy and two colleges have agreed to work with BOWW on the project.
- The conflict counsel, John Hegarty, issue is status quo. A hearing officer will be assigned to hear the employee matter.
- The Mawhinney lawsuit is scheduled for mediation in February. Mediation will be attempted again, in the hopes that a settlement can be reached.
- According to Ms. Bittner, there are two/three current lawsuits that the Borough is involved in. This does not include the handling of the employee issues by the conflict counsel.
- Disturbing news was shared at the meeting. John Banning & Nancy Doherty, candidates for the vacant commissioner seat in November 2019, experienced some intimidating incidents leading up to the election. Their vehicle tires were flattened, gas tank caps were removed were some of the examples.