Not even a gubernatorial decree of statewide emergency would forestall the instatement of the Republican supermajority in West Deptford municipal government.
Under the eye of retired Judge Richard E. Hickey, whose arrival was delayed by the weather, and following an invocation from Reverend Joseph T. Szolack of the Infant Jesus Parish of Deptford, the committee swore in its two newest members, Republicans Jeff Hansen and Jerry Maher.
The heavy snowfall outside the building mirrored the avalanche of political appointments that occurred indoors, as the party went right to work at the committee reorganization.
Republican Mayor Ray Chintall retained his position by a 4-1 vote, with Democrat Denice DiCarlo the lone dissenter. Hansen was named Deputy Mayor by the same vote.
Committeeman Sam Cianfarini will continue to chair the township finance and administration committee; Chintall will chair the department of public works, and DiCarlo will chair the utilities committee.
Maher and Hansen will oversee the public safety and buildings and grounds committees, respectively.
'A change in direction'
But after the swearing-in ceremonies were completed, all-too-familiar refrains of partisan politics echoed in the township courtroom.
“I really think we need to lose some of the labels and work together to move West Deptford forward,” Hansen said in his first address to the public.
“We have a lot of work, things to do," he said. "It’s not going to go quickly, but we have to work very hard.”
Cianfarini spoke of “finally bringing down our tax increases and giving some relief to you, the rightful owners of this community.
“I look forward to the complexion of this new committee to accelerate these progresses forward in the new year,” he said.
But DiCarlo chafed at the rhetoric as an empty gesture, claiming that she once again had not been given an advance copy of the meeting agenda, and was left to download it from the township website.
In her opening remarks, the Democratic committeewoman said that she could not support the vote for Chintall to retain his mayorship when he told her of the Republicans' plans to replace township administrator Eric Campo with Brandon Umba—Maher and Hansen’s Republican campaign manager.
“We face a very stressed budget, a dwindling surplus, a failing infrastructure,” DiCarlo said.
“Probably the biggest problem I’ve seen in the past two years is the failing redevelopment,” she said, which would fall to Umba, as administrator, to revitalize.
Chintall said that Campo's replacement was necessary because “there’s a change in the direction of what the four of us want to go in this town,” Chintall said.
Fired for 'speaking his mind'
DiCarlo countered that the move was merely done to silence Campo, who had been an erstwhile critic of the Republican financial plans for the township.
“I think it’s an extremely dangerous road to head down when the cause for termination is someone who speaks his mind,” she said.
Moreover, DiCarlo said, she didn’t see the need to remove Campo from his post immediately, which would result in the financially strapped township eating the cost of his salary for another 90 days.
“You have someone who’s qualified and you’re just going to pay him a lump sum,” DiCarlo said.
DiCarlo then asked the committee to explain why Umba was qualified to serve in this new role; Chintall replied that he didn't have a copy of Umba's resume on hand.
“For me, Denice, it’s trust,” Cianfarini replied, to a smattering of laughter from one half of the room.
“For a township of this size and complexity, to fill this important position with somebody who doesn’t have the credentials, to my mind it’s mind-boggling, and it’s a slap in the face to these West Deptford residents,” DiCarlo said.
She then listed off the titles held by municipal administrators in Mantua, Paulsboro, Woodbury, and Washington Township, among them MBAs, MPAs, and prior-serving township administrators—qualifications that, she said, Umba lacks.
“We are one of the more complex townships in Gloucester County and this is the movement we’re going to make tonight?” DiCarlo asked.
She moved to table the discussion, but couldn’t find a second.
Campo was removed by a 4-1 vote, and Umba was named acting township administrator.
Question of qualifications
DiCarlo spoke up again when Cianfarini moved to name Umba the township executive director of redevelopment as well, a position she said New Jersey law requires to be held by an appointee with a four-year degree and at least five years of public service experience.
She asked whether Umba had those qualifications, and whether Cianfarini had been aware of the statute before making his nomination; he said he had not.
“Any motion that the committee’s not comfortable making, table it, and I will get the full research into it,” said Solicitor Anthony Ogozalek, and the discussion was tabled.
The flurry of decisions continued with the removal of full-time CFO Brenda Sprigman—a Republican appointee who in only eight months had become a political scapegoat after the fallout of the 2013 municipal budget—in favor of William Pine, the current CFO of Woolwich Township, who will hold the office on a part-time basis.
Her fellow committee members seemed unperturbed when DiCarlo pointed out that Woolwich does not maintain a general ledger, which has long been a point of contention when Committee Republicans complained of the condition of West Deptford municipal finances.
The auditors, DiCarlo pointed out, were “the only ones to bid” on the job, and had “made a significant error” in filing township finances.
“This firm has crossed the line multiple times between auditors and helpers,” DiCarlo said. “I think we should go out to bid again.”
Cimino, she said, had cost the township $125,000 for a “worthless” legal opinion in the recently resolved Fulton Bank lawsuit.
“A year ago Mr. Cimino assured all of us that the township had a good chance to reverse the judge’s decision,” DiCarlo said. “I reviewed the appellate court’s decision and they said that his argument lacks sufficient merit.
“The biggest misconception is that Mr. Cimino tried the case and lost,” she said. “The judge was basically saying you don’t have a case. I think we’re lucky that we didn’t get hit with a frivolous lawsuit.”
Cimino, like many other appointments on Thursday, was approved by a 4-1 vote.