A REGULAR PUBLIC MEETING OF THE VILLAGE COUNCIL OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD HELD IN THE SYDNEY V. STOLDT, JR. COURTROOM OF THE RIDGEWOOD VILLAGE HALL, 131 NORTH MAPLE AVENUE, RIDGEWOOD, NEW JERSEY, ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 2015, AT 8:00 P.M.
1. CALL TO ORDER – OPEN PUBLIC MEETINGS ACT – ROLL CALL – FLAG SALUTE – MOMENT OF SILENCE
Mayor Aronsohn called the meeting to order at 8:00 P.M., and read the Statement of Compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act. At roll call, the following were present: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn. Also present were Roberta Sonenfeld, Village Manager; Heather Mailander, Village Clerk; and Matthew Rogers, Village Attorney.
Mayor Aronsohn led those in attendance in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Mayor Aronsohn then asked for a moment of silence to honor the men and women in the United States Armed Forces who protect and defend our freedom every day, as well as those serving as first responders.
2. ACCEPTANCE OF FINANCIAL REPORTS
Mayor Aronsohn moved that the Bills, Claims, and Vouchers, and Statement of Funds on hand as of March 31, 2015, be accepted as submitted. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
3. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
Mayor Aronsohn moved that the Village Council minutes of February 4, February 11, and February 25, 2015, having been reviewed by the Village Council and now available in the Village Clerk’s Office, be approved as submitted. Councilman Sedon seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
A. Proclaim April as Tree Planting Month and April 24, 2015 as Arbor Day
Councilman Sedon read the following proclamation:
Proclaim April 25, 2015 LAX Day in Ridgewood
Councilwoman Hauck read the following proclamation:
Proclaim May 3-9, 2015 Drinking Water Week
Councilman Pucciarelli read a proclamation declaring the week of May 3-9, 2015, as “Drinking Water Week”.
Proclaim May as Building Safety Month
Councilwoman Knudsen read the following proclamation:
Mayor Aronsohn stated that, before moving on to the Public Comment portion of the agenda, one of the issues on the agenda tonight is an ordinance concerning residency requirements, an issue that was brought up last summer, and was revisited and discussed since that time. Last week, there was a discussion about it at the Village Council meeting, and many questions were raised and clarifications requested. Therefore, Mayor Aronsohn thought that before the public was invited to make comments, he introduced Beth Hinsdale, who is the Labor Attorney for the Village, who offered to provide some clarification on some of the issues that were raised.
Ms. Hinsdale started her comments by saying that she has been the Labor Attorney for Ridgewood for approximately 20 years. She wanted to address several statements/accusations made during the Village Council meeting last week. Ms. Hinsdale watches the meetings on Ustream from home, at no cost to the Village. She does so in order to stay up-to-date on general issues of importance to the Village; labor related issues; and non-labor related issues, to keep her finger on the pulse of life in the Village.
Ms. Hinsdale commented that to her surprise and dismay, the discussion at the meeting last week had a direct impact on issues with which she is intimately involved, and had she known that Councilwoman Knudsen would make a statement regarding Ms. Hinsdale’s actions and the actions of several members of the Village professional staff, Ms. Hinsdale would have been present at the meeting. Ms. Hinsdale was shocked by the remarks made by Councilwoman Knudsen, as they not only addressed issues that are currently being reviewed by Ms. Hinsdale, although she had not yet provided any legal advice on those issues, and they addressed Ms. Hinsdale and other members of the Village’s professional staff personally. After 20 years of serving as the Labor Counsel for the Village, Ms. Hinsdale believes she deserves better, as do the members of the Village’s professional staff. As a result of the nature of the comments made at last week’s meeting, Ms. Hinsdale stated that many of the statements made by Councilwoman Knudsen regarding the Village’s residency requirements ordinance need to be clarified.
Ms. Hinsdale tried to limit her statement to concise points, and she requested that she be allowed to finish the statement in its entirety, after which time she would be glad to answer any questions for the Councilmembers, Village Manager, or the Village Attorney.
First, Ms. Hinsdale explained the difference between residency “preferences” and residency “requirements”. During the April 1, 2015, Village Council meeting, Councilwoman Knudsen raised several points regarding what she believed was the difference between a residency “preference” and a residency “requirement”. Councilwoman Knudsen thought there was confusion over what the words meant in terms of Civil Service residency issues, and might have an impact on the accuracy of the ordinance to be voted on tonight. Councilwoman Knudsen said she spoke to someone at the New Jersey Civil Service Commission regarding these issues, and now understood that there was some confusion as to the difference between the word “preference” and” requirement”. The title of the ordinance in effect in Ridgewood was “Residency Requirements,” and that has been the title of the ordinance since 1983. That title, in Ms. Hinsdale’s opinion, is legally appropriate and need not be challenged, nor does it require revision. Ms. Hinsdale continued by saying that Councilwoman Knudsen stated that her discussion with someone at the Civil Service Commission, which was one conversation with a junior member of the staff, involved the difference between a “preference” and a “requirement”. Furthermore, Councilwoman Knudsen said this junior staff member asserted that the difference meant that “The three-tiered preference system simply indicates that if all applicants are equal, a preference must be shown in the order of the tier”. The tiers are as follows: Ridgewood residents; residents of Bergen County; residents of counties contiguous to Bergen County; and New Jersey residents. Councilwoman Knudsen then stated that nothing precludes the Village from hiring the most-qualified candidate. The preference simply allows a resident to be hired when all applicants are equal. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that she believed there was a fundamental misinterpretation of the tier preference system, and believed it would be wise to table the vote on residency requirements until further clarification could be found. Councilwoman Knudsen ended her remarks on the difference between “preference” and “requirement” by stating that she would study the rule more fully.
Ms. Hinsdale pointed out that she has dealt with Civil Service in numerous municipalities over her 25-year legal career, and she stated unequivocally that she fully understands the difference between residency requirements and residency preferences. Furthermore, Ms. Hinsdale said with 100% certainty that the factual statements made by Councilwoman Knudsen on April 1, 2015, were completely inaccurate with respect to hiring employees in competitive positions in the Village. While Councilwoman Knudsen’s statement regarding hiring the most-qualified applicant is potentially accurate with respect to non-competitive positions, which are entry-level positions where there are traditionally no experience qualifications, and usually have only basic educational requirements, it is not accurate with respect to competitive positions. When it comes to competitive positions, which are not entry-level and have advanced educational and skill requirements, as well as having more authority in the Village, the Village does not have the right to hire the most-qualified candidate if there is at least one Ridgewood resident who meets the minimum qualification requirements for that job. In fact, the Village would be legally precluded from hiring a better-qualified non-resident if there are residents who meet the minimum qualifications set by the Civil Service Commission. Ms. Hinsdale explained that the information Councilwoman Knudsen received from the staff member at Civil Service, Mikayla Ridolfino, was simply inaccurate. Ms. Ridolfino is an entry-level employee, has approximately one year of experience in Human Resources, and sent information in writing to Councilwoman Knudsen without the approval of her superiors. Ms. Ridolfino is not a lawyer, and cannot give legal advice, so any advice given by her is not binding on Civil Service in any way. In fact, the information she gave in writing was wrong, in Ms. Hinsdale’s opinion. Unfortunately, although Councilwoman was able to get information more quickly than Ms. Hinsdale could, and Councilwoman Knudsen made it a point to say that she was able to call the Civil Service Commission, and was able to speak to a representative of the Civil Service Commission with that very first call, the person that she spoke to was an entry-level clerk who gave her inaccurate information.
Ms. Hinsdale found it particularly offensive that, after meeting Councilwoman Knudsen only two weeks ago, and after serving the Village for more than 20 years, Councilwoman Knudsen called Civil Service without notifying Ms. Hinsdale, Ms. Sonenfeld, or Ms. Mailander. This is especially offensive since Councilwoman Knudsen was aware that Ms. Mailander and Ms. Hinsdale were repeatedly trying to speak with someone at Civil Service. The Civil Service representative who has represented the Village for many years, and who has frequently worked with Ms. Mailander, is superior to Ms. Ridolfino, and gave Ms. Mailander and Ms. Hinsdale information that contradicts the information provided by Ms. Ridolfino.
Next, Ms. Hinsdale addressed why the Village does not have the right to hire the most-qualified candidate for competitive positions. That is because there is something in Civil Service called the “Rule of Three”. It means that when the Village receives an eligibility list for a competitive position, the Village is required to hire one of the top three candidates on that list. If the first person on the list happens to be a veteran, the Village must choose the veteran. Therefore, competitive positions, unlike non-competitive positions, are announced and reviewed by Civil Service, not by the Village. After that review, Civil Service issues an eligibility list, from which the Village must choose a candidate to hire. The Village is not involved in the process of announcing or reviewing applicants until the eligibility list is received. Once the list is issued, the Village must hire from the top three candidates on the list. Ms. Hinsdale quoted directly from Civil Service rules and regulations that “Civil Service rules state that candidates who have successfully passed an open competitive examination for a specific job title are placed on an eligibility list. The eligibility list for open competitive announcements rank candidates based on residency, veteran status, and final average score. For example, residents are ranked ahead of non-residents, and veterans are ranked ahead of non-veterans. Most eligibility lists have a three-year duration.
Local government agencies must use these lists from Civil Service to fill vacancies. In addition, they must follow the Rule of Three when appointing candidates to a position.” As a result, in competitive positions, if there are at least three residents on the Civil Service eligibility list who have been deemed to meet the eligibility criteria of the job by Civil Service, the Village must hire one of those residents, even if there are better-qualified non-residents who are not on the list, or are farther down the list than number three. It is important to note that candidates can be deemed to have met the minimum qualifications by Civil Service if they have tested for competitive positions and have scored as low as 70. Therefore, if it is a tested position, or if the score is based on education and/or experience, or a combination of testing, experience, and education, a resident need only score a 70 to be put on the list. It is possible that there could be three Ridgewood residents who scored a 70, 71, and 72, who would be the top three names on the eligibility list. If a non-resident scored 100 on the Civil Service test, or had a combined education/experience score of 90, 95, or even a perfect 100 and was number four on the list, the Village would be prohibited from hiring that candidate, even if s/he lived in Glen Rock, or lived outside the Village but closer than a Village resident to the job site. Therefore, saying that the Village is allowed to hire the “best candidate” is inaccurate.
In summary, Ms. Hinsdale stated that if a residency preference/requirement is in effect for civilian titles, the Village would not be able to hire the best-qualified candidate, and in fact, would likely be required to hire someone who is much less qualified in certain situations. In addition, in competitive positions, the Village is almost completely taken out of the hiring process until an eligibility list is created. Once the list is created, it can be in effect for three years, and the Village is required to choose from among the top three names on the list. In Ms. Hinsdale’s opinion, that is inconsistent with getting the best-qualified candidate.
The next point Ms. Hinsdale wanted to make was about the concern raised by Councilwoman Knudsen regarding the Village’s request of Civil Service to hold open civilian employment opportunities until a change to the residency ordinance had been implemented. Councilwoman Knudsen expressed dismay over the “concealment” of information from the Village Council, and insisted that this action by the appointing authority denied employment opportunities to legally eligible candidates, and delayed the filling of vacancies. Ms. Hinsdale commented that the statement was inaccurate. Ms. Hinsdale reviewed the allegation with Ms. Sonenfeld and Ms. Mailander, and she is certain that the action was not taken for any other reason than to secure a list that was in compliance with the desires of the Village Council as to whether or not they preferred a residency requirement. This action was taken by the appointing authority through Ms. Mailander on February 24, 2015, at a time when the Village was discussing residency requirements.
In August 2014, the Village believed it was adopting an ordinance, which Ms. Hinsdale did not have an opportunity to review at that time, which they believed was valid. The ordinance stated that the Village could start with a Bergen County preference in hiring, and after that to a contiguous County preference, then to the State level. In essence, that would have taken the bottom tier out of consideration. The vote on the ordinance adopted in August 2014 was a unanimous vote by the Village Council. On February 24, 2015, after being notified by Civil Service that the change was invalid, the Village Council again discussed residency requirements. As of February 24, 2015, there was no longer unanimous support for the Village residency requirement, so Ms. Mailander advised Civil Service of that discussion among the Councilmembers and the impending change in the Village ordinance. It was Civil Service who asked whether the positions should be held open. There were two positions in question at that time. One of them was for a Plumbing Inspector, and the other was for a Public Works Inspector. Ms. Hinsdale noted that it is not unusual for Civil Service to hold announcements, either on their own, or at the request of the appointing authority. In this particular situation, it was recommended by Civil Service to the appointing authority (the Village Manager in consultation with the Village Clerk) that the two positions should be held so the Village Council could decide whether they would support a residency requirement or not, after which time the announcements would be made.
One of the positions that was held open has now been filled with a provisional employee. Having provisional employees filling vacancies are not unusual in Civil Service municipalities. The other position was left vacant, because it was deemed not crucial to fill the position right away. As of June or July 2015, when this position might be deemed crucial to fill, if there is no announcement at that time, the position can be approved and filled on a provisional basis. Ms. Hinsdale is certain that Ms. Sonenfeld and Ms. Mailander did not hold positions vacant to any detriment to the Village. The decision made was a reasoned one by Ms. Sonenfeld and Ms. Mailander, after consultation with their contacts at Civil Service. That is completely within the powers of the Village Manager, and it would be rare for her to discuss holding announcements with the Village Council. Councilwoman Knudsen indicated that she was surprised and dismayed to learn that Ms. Sonenfeld and Ms. Mailander did not advise the Village Council that they were going to hold those two positions open. Ms. Hinsdale stated that it has been her experience that it would be highly unusual for the appointing authority to go into that much detail with the Village Council. If the Village Manager were to go into that much detail with the Village Council on every termination or hiring decision, the Village Council meetings would be completely consumed with such discussions, and Village business would not be accomplished. That is one of the functions of the Village Manager, and that is why she is deemed the appointing authority.
Ms. Hinsdale turned to the subject of the alleged withholding of information from Councilwoman Knudsen. Ms. Hinsdale finds that allegation to be the most disturbing one made by Councilwoman Knudsen, including the statement that Ms. Hinsdale, as the Village Labor Counsel, directed Village employees to withhold information from the Village Council, and specifically from Councilwoman Knudsen. Councilwoman Knudsen said “Beth Hinsdale said we are not giving you this information”. Furthermore, Councilwoman Knudsen claimed that she made the request numerous times, and “Beth Hinsdale instructed Heather Mailander not to give me the information”. Ms. Hinsdale said that statement was completely inaccurate and misleading, and questioned her professional ethics. Moreover, after 20 years of working for the Village, Ms. Hinsdale said she did not think she should be subjected to that type of questioning without the courtesy of being forewarned so that she could address the statement to the Village Council, Councilwoman Knudsen, Ms. Sonenfeld, Ms. Mailander, and the public. In that same statement, Councilwoman Knudsen also questioned the ethics of the Village Clerk, who has worked in Ridgewood longer than Ms. Hinsdale has, and in Ms. Hinsdale’s opinion, works harder than anyone. As the Village Labor Attorney, Ms. Hinsdale stated that she does not direct employees to do anything. She gives advice, and the Village Council or the Village Manager determines what action should be taken. Ms. Hinsdale said that during the Work Session on March 4, 2015, Councilwoman Knudsen requested information from Ms. Mailander regarding hires. In that meeting, Councilwoman Knudsen asked for “a personal inventory of everyone hired in the Village,” along with their classifications and residency status. Residency is not something that is subject to Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests. There was no timeframe on the request, nor was any reason given for the requested information. The next morning, Ms. Hinsdale called Ms. Sonenfeld, and discussed with her and Ms. Mailander whether there had been any further discussion with Councilwoman Knudsen about the information she was requesting; whether there was any timeframe on the request; and if any reason was given for the request. As the Village Labor Attorney, Ms. Hinsdale was very concerned about the privacy rights of Village employees; the requirements to Rice Notice save the file employees if information was given to the Village Council with employee names attached, and those specific names were discussed; and the information itself being discussed without limits or any regard to the reason for the requested information. Therefore, Ms. Hinsdale suggested to Ms. Sonenfeld that no information should be obtained until it could be discussed by the Village Council. At the next Village Council meeting, there was a Closed Session discussion before the meeting started so Ms. Hinsdale could explain to the Village Council, and specifically to Councilwoman Knudsen, why Ms. Hinsdale advised against obtaining that information. At that meeting, it was determined that the request for information be limited to a listing of competitive and non-competitive employees hired from July 1, 2014 to the present time, and that the request be held in abeyance, pending a decision about what residency requirement was currently in effect. There was a question at that time, as a result of the prior ordinance adopted in August 2014 being held invalid, about what current residency requirement was in effect, and if there was in fact a residency requirement or not. Ms. Hinsdale was asked to make a legal determination and then supply the information requested by Councilwoman Knudsen. As of March 11, 2015, the majority of the Councilmembers directed Ms. Hinsdale to hold that information requested in abeyance, pending her legal determination on what the fallback residency issue was. That information has now been supplied to Councilwoman Knudsen, because Ms. Hinsdale was able to determine what the fallback position is because she has spoken with Civil Service. The Councilmembers have also been cautioned regarding use of the information. No information was withheld, nor was there any direction to withhold information. Ms. Hinsdale made a suggestion, as the Village Labor Attorney, that the Village Council should act more cautiously in that regard, which the majority of the Councilmembers decided to do.
There was also an implication by Councilwoman Knudsen that Ms. Hinsdale was not providing a timely response, because Ms. Hinsdale and Ms. Mailander encountered difficulties reaching the Village’s contact at the Civil Service Commission. They were trying to reach a specific person who they knew had the information needed. Ms. Mailander and Ms. Hinsdale were not willing to rely on the first person who answered the phone, nor did they want to rely on information from a clerk who had less than one year of experience. Ms. Hinsdale and Ms. Mailander wanted to speak to Saul Abrams, who is a Human Resource Consultant 3, and is extremely experienced in Civil Service, as well as being Ms. Mailander’s contact at the Civil Service Commission.
Ms. Hinsdale pointed out that there was no intentional delay in responding to Councilwoman Knudsen’s request. Ms. Hinsdale was trying to render a legal opinion with all of the information available. She explained that she is reluctant to give legal opinions without all of the information, so Ms. Hinsdale would not give one in this case. In addition, when Councilwoman Knudsen indicated that she had spoken to someone at the Civil Service Commission, she sent an email to Ms. Hinsdale and Ms. Mailander saying that she no longer needed the requested information or a legal opinion from Ms. Hinsdale, and that Ms. Hinsdale should stop what she was doing. Unfortunately, Ms. Hinsdale said she could not stop at that time, because she was not simply asked by Councilwoman Knudsen to render a legal opinion, but she was requested by the Village Council to do so, and that is what she was doing.
To claim that Ms. Hinsdale would intentionally withhold information or attempt to direct any Village employee to do so, after 20 years of representing the Village, is offensive and inaccurate. Ms. Hinsdale stated that in her 20 years of working for the Village, her integrity has never been questioned in this manner, nor has she ever witnessed the integrity of Village professionals being questioned in this way.
At the April 1, 2015, Village Council meeting, Councilwoman Knudsen several times requested a delay in voting on the residency ordinance in order to resolve some alleged confusion and to ensure the accuracy of the ordinance. Ms. Hinsdale commented that, with all due respect, it is her professional opinion that there is no confusion regarding the residency ordinance. Ms. Hinsdale stated that it is her opinion that any delay as a result of Councilwoman Knudsen’s request could be deemed a conflict of interest based on the appearance that the elimination of the residency requirement for civilian employees could lead to the same action for non-civilian employees. The fact that Councilwoman Knudsen is opining on these issues regarding the benefits of residency requirements, as well as the fact that she is attempting to become a contact with Civil Service on the issue of residency requirements, is inappropriate, in Ms. Hinsdale’s opinion. This is due to several factors, including the fact that Councilwoman Knudsen has three sons on the current Police Officer eligibility list, which has a residency preference. The residency requirement that is being discussed today, and is being voted on today, is primarily about non-civilian employees. It is called “Residency Requirement” in the Village Code book and on the ordinance, and the majority of that ordinance discusses non-civilian positions. The proposed changes only affect non-police and fire positions. Therefore, the current change will have no impact on the police eligibility list. However, the problem is that when someone continuously requests delays in voting on a residency requirement, and continuously alleges confusion where there is none, the appearance of a conflict can develop, leading people to believe that there might be another agenda. Ms. Hinsdale is concerned that there will be a question about why this ordinance is delayed over and over. Ms. Hinsdale will not opine on whether Councilwoman Knudsen should recuse herself from these votes or not, which is being dealt with by Mr. Rogers. It is also being addressed by a letter to the Department of Community Affairs, and Ms. Hinsdale suggested that the letter should also include this latest set of circumstances in which a delay has been requested by Councilwoman Knudsen, so that an opinion can be rendered by the Department of Community Affairs that is full, complete, and will protect the Village from any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Finally, Ms. Hinsdale commented that last week, after the questions about the residency ordinance were raised, Mayor Aronsohn specifically asked that Ms. Hinsdale give an opinion as to whether the current changes to the residency ordinance, which is entitled “Residency Requirements,” and is on the agenda for tonight to be voted on, need to be amended in any way. After reviewing the ordinance as thoroughly as possible, and asking several of her colleagues to review it, Ms. Hinsdale believes it does not need to be changed. She believes the ordinance is legal, and can be voted on tonight. In addition, in order to avoid the appearance of any conflicts, Ms. Hinsdale thinks it should be voted on tonight. She was very clear that she does not opine on Village policy, nor was Ms. Hinsdale saying whether the ordinance should be adopted or not. She was simply saying that the vote needs to be taken tonight. If the Councilmembers decide against adopting the ordinance, that would not be because the ordinance is illegal.
Ms. Hinsdale wanted to make one final point. She noted that there have been a lot of questions about her integrity, which she said she could deal with. However, questions were also raised about the integrity of Ms. Mailander, Mr. Rogers, and Ms. Sonenfeld. Ms. Hinsdale emphatically stated that after 20 years of working with the Village, and 25 years as a labor attorney specializing in public sector labor law, Ms. Hinsdale has never had the pleasure of working with more professional people than Ms. Mailander, Mr. Rogers, and Ms. Sonenfeld. In the last year, Ms. Sonenfeld has shown Ms. Hinsdale that she is the best Village Manager Ms. Hinsdale has ever worked with. After working with many Village Managers, some of whom had many years of education and experience to become Village Managers, Ms. Sonenfeld, with her background, is the best and has the most insightful opinions. She is adept at drawing employees into the process, and has done more for the Village than any other Village Manager with whom Ms. Hinsdale has worked. She stated that it has been an extreme pleasure to work with Ms. Sonenfeld, Ms. Mailander, and Mr. Rogers, as well as the rest of the Councilmembers.
Mayor Aronsohn thanked Ms. Hinsdale for her comments, and for the detail and information provided.
Councilwoman Knudsen thanked Ms. Hinsdale for her extensive commentary. She mentioned the points raised with respect to Ms. Ridolfino of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that she had in her possession a letter dated December 29, 2014, which came from the State of New Jersey Civil Service Commission. It is addressed to Heather Mailander, and is about the ranking of candidates for positions other than police and fire, in accordance with the change in residency requirements for the Village. The letter cites the relevant New Jersey Statutes, and where the problems were in the ordinance. Councilwoman Knudsen quoted from the letter sent by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission: “If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Mikayla Ridolfino,” with a telephone number and email address. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that Ms. Hinsdale’s continual impugning of the abilities of Ms. Ridolfino to do her job was contradicted by the State of New Jersey, who recognized her in a capacity that allowed her to respond to complex situations regarding New Jersey Statutes. That is why Councilwoman Knudsen does not understand what she called the effort on Ms. Hinsdale’s part to question Ms. Ridolfino’s knowledge, but she wanted to move on.
Ms. Hinsdale answered that, after talking to Saul Abrams, who is two levels above Ms. Ridolfino, it is her understanding that Ms. Ridolfino was responsible for answering the phone, and questions could be directed to her. Ms. Ridolfino had been employed there for approximately one year, and Ms. Mailander addressed questions to Saul Abrams. Therefore, the fact that Councilwoman Knudsen could call Ms. Ridolfino did not mean that Ms. Ridolfino would be answering questions, but merely indicated that she was receiving the questions. As far as Ms. Hinsdale new, Ms. Ridolfino was directing the questions to Saul Abrams or to another superior to answer those questions. Councilwoman Knudsen pointed out that Ms. Hinsdale did not know that for a fact, because the letter specifically states that any questions could be directed to Ms. Ridolfino. That is a clear indication that Ms. Ridolfino could be contacted with questions.
Councilwoman Knudsen pointed out that Ms. Hinsdale made some comments about the delay in voting on this issue, and she also pointed out that the letter in question is dated December 29, 2014. The first time this issue arose was in August 2014, and when it was taken up at that time, Councilwoman Knudsen stated that she was new to the Village Council, and did not know much about Civil Service. She understood that there were some issues with the language, and it needed to be changed to be consistent and legal. Although Councilwoman Knudsen voted for the ordinance at that time, she stated unequivocally that she really believes in Ridgewood residents, and she continues to do so. In the hypothetical scenario proposed by Ms. Hinsdale, the Ridgewood residents scored in the 70s on the examination, while a non-resident got a score of 100. Councilwoman Knudsen said in supporting Ridgewood residents, it was and is her view that if someone meets the posted qualifications for a job, and a Ridgewood resident is applying for that job, the Ridgewood resident should be given first consideration.
Councilwoman Knudsen continued by saying that when discussing the delay in taking action on this ordinance, the day that the Village Council was notified by letter was December 29, 2014, yet it took approximately two months to put the item on an agenda for a Village Council meeting. Her point is that she believes a mistake was made in August 2014, and the Village Council was notified of that mistake on December 29, 2014. It was not put on a Village Council meeting agenda for another two months, and it was first put on the agenda for a Closed Session meeting. Councilwoman Knudsen was advised to recuse herself from that discussion, which she did, because she was told the discussion would possibly involve Police and Fire Department contract negotiations. She referred again to the first line of the December 29, 2014, letter, which indicated that the discussion was relating to the ranking of candidates other than police and fire. Councilwoman Knudsen felt that Ms. Hinsdale was making assertions that Councilwoman Knudsen was questioning someone or doing something that might be unseemly, but she was only trying to relate what happened at that time.
Ms. Hinsdale responded that with respect to contacting Ms. Ridolfino, Ms. Hinsdale based her statements on conversations she had with Ms. Ridolfino’s superior, Saul Abrams. Ms. Ridolfino responded to Councilwoman Knudsen via email, but that response was incorrect. Ms. Ridolfino advised Councilwoman Knudsen that the Village was allowed to hire the best-qualified candidate with a residency requirement, which is wrong. That is why Ms. Hinsdale cannot understand why Councilwoman Knudsen would continue to rely on information provided by Ms. Ridolfino, although it is a moot point because Ms. Ridolfino no longer works at the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Ms. Hinsdale wanted to clarify a statement that was made at the previous Village Council meeting that the Village could still hire the best-qualified candidate, and Ms. Hinsdale emphatically stated that she is not opining on whether the Village should give preference to Ridgewood residents or not, because that is not her job. Her job is to inform the Councilmembers that the statement that was made that the Village could still hire the best-qualified candidate is wrong.
Councilwoman Knudsen said she appreciated that information. She also pointed out that these are important pieces of information that should be shared with the Councilmembers when such a change has been proposed to an existing ordinance. The information is critical, yet the first time Councilwoman Knudsen heard about the “Rule of Three” was last week. Councilwoman Knudsen considers that information very important, because it clarifies the information in front of the Councilmembers regarding how the residency requirement works, and how it guides the Village in filling the openings. It seems to Councilwoman Knudsen that the Councilmembers would want that information in order to make a good decision on behalf of Ridgewood residents. Ms. Hinsdale found it surprising that Councilwoman Knudsen did not know about the “Rule of Three,” but the Village Manager, who is the appointing authority, does know about it. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that it was symptomatic of the fact that the Councilmembers were lacking so much information on a law that they were voting on, and she did not understand how she could be asked to vote on something without having such vital information. For example, knowing about the “Rule of Three” might have changed how Councilwoman Knudsen perceived and understood a lot of the material provided.
Councilwoman Knudsen pointed out that people who are not necessarily the top students in their class might perform just as well in their jobs, and that examination scores are simply one measure of candidates’ abilities. They are also subjected to interviews, as well as background checks, and a whole series of events before being hired. Ms. Hinsdale noted that as far as competitive positions are concerned, the Village is not in a position to do those things. The Village cannot interview or administer an examination to get a score, nor can the Village ask any questions of a candidate. All of that work for competitive positions is done by the Civil Service Commission, and is completely outside the Village’s purview for competitive positions. Councilwoman Knudsen commented that Ridgewood is a Civil Service town, but Paramus is not. Ms. Hinsdale stated that unfortunately, once a municipality becomes a Civil Service town, it cannot get out.
Councilwoman Knudsen mentioned that on March 13, 2015, she asked to have this discussion placed on the agenda for an open meeting, because she wanted it discussed in public for everyone to hear. She is happy that it is now being discussed in an Open Session. At the March 4, 2015, Village Council meeting, when the original question was raised, it was done so in the context of what happened from the time the ordinance was amended in August 2014, although Councilwoman Knudsen stated that she might not have expressed it that way. In addition, Councilwoman Knudsen was not privy to the discussion held during the Closed Session meeting, because she was strongly advised to recuse herself. Therefore, she missed some important information that was given to the other Councilmembers.
Mayor Aronsohn interjected that a point of clarification needed to be made, because Councilwoman Knudsen stated twice that she was asked to leave the room during the Closed Session discussion. Councilwoman Knudsen reiterated that she was told that she needed to recuse herself, and the item of discussion was held until the last item of the night, so that Councilwoman Knudsen left before it was discussed. She revised her earlier statement when she said that she was told to recuse herself by saying that she was “strongly advised” to recuse herself.
Mr. Rogers commented that he and Councilwoman Knudsen had discussed this, and he said that he advised her to recuse herself, after discussing during the Closed Session what the topic would be, and based on what was said during that discussion, which is why he advised her to recuse herself. Mr. Rogers noted that he does not have any authority to order anyone to do anything, to which Councilwoman Knudsen agreed. However he advised her to recuse herself, and Councilwoman Knudsen willingly left. Ms. Hinsdale pointed out that with respect to the March 4, 2015, Village Council meeting, she was not present at that meeting, and so was not privy to what was said in the Closed Session portion. In listening to the request for the hiring data, Ms. Hinsdale stated that it came right after a discussion about what had been occurring for 25 years, and the implication was 25 years’ worth. That caused Ms. Hinsdale some dismay, and prompted her call to the Village Manager.
Councilwoman Knudsen stated that she never said anything about 25 years. Councilwoman Sedon made a comment that the law had been violated for 25 years, but Councilwoman Knudsen never made such a statement. Councilwoman Knudsen’s question and request were in the context of the discussion from August 2014 forward. When Ms. Hinsdale mentioned 25 years, Councilwoman Knudsen found it amusing, because she said that she did not want to go through that much paperwork. She was looking for a snippet of information, and the reason she was looking for that information was in order to better understand the trends in hiring in the Village; where people were coming from; and how it fit into what the Councilmembers were taking action on.
Ms. Hinsdale addressed the comment made by Councilman Sedon regarding violating the law for 25 years. She spoke to the Civil Service Commission about that statement, and was unequivocally told that the Village has not been violating Civil Service rules for the past 25 years. There was confusion with the ordinance regarding non-competitive positions, and not using a “residency requirement”. In ensuring that the Village was not violating Civil Service laws for 25 years, Ms. Hinsdale requested and got an opinion from the Civil Service Commission that no laws have been violated for the past 25 years. Ms. Hinsdale misunderstood Councilwoman Knudsen’s request, thinking that she was requesting information for the past 25 years, and that is what prompted her call to the Village. She apologized if she was wrong, but she was trying to make sure what was being requested.
Councilwoman Knudsen commented that on March 4, 2015, Ms. Hinsdale did not know that Councilwoman Knudsen was not requesting 25 years’ worth of information, and Ms. Hinsdale assumed out of context that information for the past 25 years was being requested. Councilwoman Knudsen reminded Ms. Hinsdale of her earlier statement that she spoke to Ms. Mailander and asked Ms. Mailander not to do anything until Ms. Hinsdale had more information about the request. Ms. Hinsdale corrected her by saying that she spoke to the Village Manager, as well as Ms. Mailander, and advised them that, in Ms. Hinsdale’s opinion, the request was vague and Ms. Sonenfeld and Ms. Mailander should get more information, and they agreed. Ms. Hinsdale did not direct anyone to take any specific action. Councilwoman Knudsen apologized, and said that she stood corrected. However, she reiterated that she did not know any of this until she walked into the Closed Session meeting on March 4, 2015. Councilwoman Knudsen pointed out that anyone could have called and asked her for clarification about the information being requested, or to refine the request. She was shocked, because she was anticipating having information to help her participate in a discussion and take action on something that was on a Village Council agenda. That night happened to be the first reading of the ordinance, and Councilwoman Knudsen anticipated having information to help her better understand what was going on. It had been one week since she requested the information, and Councilwoman Knudsen was very disappointed, and wondered why no one called her about it.
Ms. Hinsdale responded that one of the reasons that she did not make that call was because she does not believe it is her place to speak to individual Councilmembers about an issue before the Village Council. Ms. Hinsdale cannot have a phone call with the entire Village Council, and she had never met either Councilwoman Knudsen or Councilman Sedon prior to that meeting. Moreover, she wanted to ensure that there was a full understanding as to the basis for Ms. Hinsdale’s opinion. The next available time for her to meet with the Village Council was in Closed Session prior to the Open Session, which was when she did meet with them. Councilwoman Knudsen said she could appreciate and accept Ms. Hinsdale’s reasoning behind the failure to make a phone call, but she pointed out that there were approximately 20 emails among her, Ms. Hinsdale, and Ms. Mailander. If clarification was needed, all that was necessary was to pick up a phone or send an email.
Mayor Aronsohn asked Ms. Mailander to give a bit more clarification about that, if possible. Ms. Mailander commented that when Councilwoman Knudsen requested the information in the open meeting, Ms. Mailander believed Councilwoman Knudsen meant every hire, although that was not specifically stated. During the Closed Session meeting, Councilwoman Knudsen specified that she only wanted information from July 1, 2014, to the present time, which Ms. Mailander noted tremendously changed the scope of the request. However, that is not what was stated during the Open Session. It would have been an impossible task to compile 25 years’ worth of personnel data. Ms. Hinsdale, after consulting with Ms. Sonenfeld and Ms. Mailander, asked to speak to the entire Village Council to get clarification so that action on the request could move forward.
Councilwoman Hauck interjected that, at that moment, she was wondering why Councilwoman Knudsen was looking for further clarification and direction. At that time, Councilwoman Hauck asked Councilwoman Knudsen why she was making the request, and Councilwoman Knudsen responded that it was not Councilwoman Hauck’s question. Mayor Aronsohn disagreed, and said that it was Councilwoman Hauck’s question, yet the question was never answered. Councilwoman Hauck pointed out that the discussion was not always cordial, and there were many requests for information that seemed nearly impossible to fulfill. As Ms. Hinsdale noted, Councilwoman Hauck agreed that Councilwoman Knudsen must understand that it becomes very burdensome to fill requests when Councilwoman Knudsen is making multiple requests. It is also possible that the other Councilmembers might be curious about why the requests are being made. Furthermore, Councilmembers who do not understand Civil Service law or other issues, such as land-use laws, must inform themselves very quickly about these subjects. Councilmembers must study the subjects, and they often ask friends, relatives, and other advisors for information. They must also trust the Village’s advisers to give them accurate and reliable information. It is possible to find the answers by cooperating with colleagues, either individually or as a group, in a cordial manner. Councilwoman Hauck pointed out that there has been some animosity surrounding this issue, but she also reiterated that it is upsetting that Councilwoman Knudsen does not understand this issue. Councilwoman Hauck stated it is the nature of their job as Councilmembers to try to learn about the issues without maligning their colleagues and coworkers, or insinuating that advisers cannot properly advise the Councilmembers.
Councilman Sedon stated that it seemed that there was 24-27 days after there was clarification that Councilwoman Knudsen wanted information from July 1, 2014, to the present. Ms. Hinsdale pointed out that it was from March 11, 2015, forward. Councilman Sedon said he was referring to when the questions were answered, which took nearly 4 weeks. There were two positions that were held open, and some other issues, but it was not such a large amount of information that it should have taken four weeks to compile. Ms. Hinsdale stated that it was approximately 3 weeks, and she pointed out that Civil Service is not always clear in their explanations/answers. In fact, her first choice in reaching legal conclusions is to not rely on Civil Service, but to do the research herself by reviewing the rules and regulations; reviewing case law; and discussing the pertinent issues with other lawyers who might have some expertise with them. Therefore, the contact with Civil Service was not made until after Ms. Hinsdale determined that there was no other way to obtain the information, and at that point, she and Ms. Mailander were trying to arrange a conference call with Saul Abrams from Civil Service, who responds to several other jurisdictions besides Ridgewood, making it difficult to reach him. After obtaining information from Mr. Abrams, Ms. Hinsdale tried to verify as much of it as she could, while Ms. Mailander was getting the personnel information from July 1, 2014, forward. Ms. Hinsdale added that sometimes, legal opinions take a little longer, but it is important to get them right, instead of getting them quickly. Councilman Sedon said that was fair, and he appreciated that. However, he was referring to the information that was requested, including the titles of the job positions that were being held, and information on who was hired during the specified time period. Councilman Sedon said it was not necessary to provide a legal opinion at that time, and he could not understand why publicly available personnel information could not be provided sooner. Ms. Hinsdale noted that there were more than two people on that list, and it was her understanding from the Closed Session meeting that she attended that she was to put that request on hold pending a legal determination on what ordinance was the fallback position. In addition, it was really up to Ms. Mailander to gather the personnel information, but she did not start compiling it until after the legal determination was made about the fallback position. Therefore, the issue was not whether it took three or four weeks to compile information on new hires, which could have been done at any time at the direction of the majority of the Councilmembers, but had to wait until Ms. Hinsdale had a legal opinion on the fallback ordinance, which was requested by the majority of the Councilmembers.
Mayor Aronsohn stated that he remembered it the same way, as a two-step process. Furthermore, he recalled that the vote was not just a majority of the Councilmembers, but a unanimous consensus, because the Councilmembers wanted to know which ordinance applied during that period of time, and then get the information.
Councilwoman Knudsen responded to Ms. Hinsdale’s comments to Councilman Sedon. When she originally asked Ms. Mailander for the list, and then repeated the request on March 11th, it seemed like progress was being made. However, after further discussion, Councilwoman Knudsen asked which ordinance was in force when the State determined that the August change to the ordinance violated the Civil Service regulations. She expected the answer to be that the previously-existing ordinance was in effect at that time, because it is the only ordinance that was ever legally adopted by the Village Council. Suddenly, there was a lot of discussion that it would revert to a State-wide ordinance, and Councilwoman Knudsen wondered how that could be, when it was never adopted. She reiterated that there was an ordinance in effect that was adopted by the Village Council, and on file with the State and the Civil Service Commission. A change was made to the ordinance in August 2014, and it was subsequently learned that the amended ordinance violates Civil Service regulations. Councilwoman Knudsen asked if it was accurate to state that the only ordinance that was on file with the State and the Civil Service Commission was the original ordinance. Ms. Hinsdale said the Civil Service Commission had on record the ordinance that was adopted in 1983, which had a Ridgewood residency preference. In August 2014, the ordinance was revised and was later deemed to be invalid, and the Civil Service Commission was notified that the Village no longer wanted to have a Ridgewood residency requirement. At that point, the Civil Service Commission knew of an ordinance that was adopted in 1983, as well as the invalid ordinance. No one seemed to know what the fallback position was at that time, because there had been residency preference, but Civil Service was advised via the amended ordinance that the Village no longer wanted to include a Ridgewood residency preference. Ms. Hinsdale was not sure whether legally, the Village would not be subject to a State preference. That was the question that she was asked to give an opinion on. In fact, when Civil Service asked Ms. Mailander whether the two announcements should be held, Ms. Hinsdale believes that showed that Civil Service did not know whether Ridgewood wanted a residency requirement or not. That also shows that they were not relying on the old ordinance, because the Village had indicated with the amended ordinance that a residency requirement was no longer desired, although that amended ordinance was later found to be invalid.
Mayor Aronsohn stated that, in the interest of moving the discussion forward, everyone could agree that there were some miscommunications and misunderstandings, but the key is to move forward. He suggested that they move on with public comments, and he reminded everyone that the Public Hearing on the residency requirement issue would be coming up later in the agenda.
Finally, Councilwoman Knudsen apologized to Ms. Hinsdale, stating that if there was anything she did, she certainly did not intend to malign or question Ms. Hinsdale’s professional ethics or integrity. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that her only endeavor was to get enough information to make an informed decision about an ordinance that affects the Village residents, who she represents. There was a series of events that took place which made Councilwoman Knudsen feel very uncomfortable, and she felt that she had no choice but to come before the public and state her case. Ms. Hinsdale stated that she appreciated the apology, and she accepted it.
Councilman Sedon noted that he had a copy of the residency requirement dated March 2, 2015, which was read at the March 4, 2015, Public Meeting. In Section 3-59, “Alternative Hiring,” there are two subsections. The ordinance that is being proposed for adoption tonight, under Section 3-59, “Alternative Hiring,” there are five subsections. Councilman Sedon wanted to know when the other three subsections were added, and why they were added, as well as why they were never discussed. Ms. Mailander responded that they were added before the ordinance was introduced; and they were added because the original ordinance included provisions for the Police and Fire Departments. Section (c) refers to the fact that any existing employee must become a bona fide resident of Ridgewood in order to continue his/her employment. Sections (c) and (d) were in the original ordinance that was introduced.
Councilwoman Knudsen commented that she had a lot of paperwork in front of her, and she had the original ordinance. She saw a page that had the added subsections, and she saw it on the Public Notice that was posted on March 20th. Ms. Mailander stated that those provisions were included in the original ordinance from 1983, and she pointed out that the same subsections were (b) and (c) in the original ordinance. Councilwoman Knudsen mentioned that the Councilmembers were provided with the ordinance several weeks ago, and things were added to and deleted from the ordinance, which was a topic of discussion on March 11th. However, subsections (c) and (d) were not included on March 11th. Ms. Mailander stated that they were, although Councilwoman Knudsen might not have received those changes.
5. COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC
Mayor Aronsohn asked if anyone from the public wished to speak regarding any of the agenda items.
Ellie Gruber, 229 South Irving Street, said she was shocked and astounded to see that personal attacks were leveled against a Councilmember in public. She also believes it is inexcusable to bring up anything relating to someone’s children. Ms. Gruber watched the meeting last week on television, and she was disturbed at the discussion about the residency requirements. Ms. Gruber believes that the discussion was the opposite of transparency and good government. She suggested that, instead of having meetings about civility, they should be meeting about good governance. None of the Councilmembers should be attacking each other. One of the Councilmembers was questioning, and to someone watching the meeting on television, it looked awful. Mayor Aronsohn asked who was attacked last week. Ms. Gruber pointed out that there was one person who was asking questions, trying to get information. No answers were being given to her questions, and Ms. Gruber believes that Mayor Aronsohn should have defended Councilwoman Knudsen, and he should have taken the position that the residency ordinance needed to be discussed further. It is a very complicated issue, and Ms. Gruber believes the entire ordinance should be pulled until there has been more discussion about the matter. It is a matter of importance to Ridgewood. Although some members of Village management may be learning about Civil Service, it is still not necessary to impugn a Village staff member, or someone who works for the Civil Service Commission. It is not a defense of one’s reputation to stand up and claim that the reputation has been impugned, and proceed to tear apart another person in the process.
Jim Brandes, 515 Stevens Avenue, wanted to discuss the traffic situation on Corella Court. Mr. Brandes wrote a letter dated March 13, 2015, and said he has not yet received a reply. He has no objection to the stop sign which is being considered for Corella Court and Stevens Avenue, but he opposes the proposal for Corella Court regarding the parking restriction to discourage all-day parking there. If this proposal continues to be given consideration, Mr. Brandes asked that his letter be considered a formal request that no parking or standing be permitted on the west side of Stevens Avenue from Corella Court northward for a distance of 400 feet between the hours of 8:00 A.M.-9:00 A.M., and 2:30 P.M.-3:30 P.M. Mr. Brandes gave the reasons for his request. A few years ago, a Stevens Avenue resident made a request for parking restrictions on Stevens Avenue south of Corella Court. At that time, Mr. Brandes appeared before the Village Council to oppose that proposal because it would only move the parking problem farther down the street. The current request by a Corella Court resident validates that concern. If the current proposal for parking restrictions is approved, it will only move the problem farther down the street, specifically in front of the driveways of people living along Stevens Avenue, which will be a more dangerous situation. Stevens Avenue at that location is five feet narrower than Corella Court. Stevens Avenue is a thoroughfare, and Corella Court is a dead-end cul-de-sac. Stevens Avenue is a very busy street during the morning opening and afternoon closing hours of the school day. Currently, all of the residents of that street must take extra precautions getting in and out of their driveways because of the excessive traffic on Stevens Avenue, which is a safety concern for them. Additionally, parents dropping off and picking up their children at school must often stop for incoming traffic when cars are parked on Stevens Avenue, because the parked cars restrict the narrow roadway to one lane. If Corella Court parking is restricted so that school employees will be forced to park on Stevens Avenue, it will exacerbate those conditions. This proposal will also hamper the ability of the Village to provide municipal services, such as sanitation, leaf pickup, and snow removal, among other things. That is why the current proposal will not solve the problem, but relocate it, and it will be much worse and more dangerous than the existing conditions.
The current proposal only addresses a symptom of the real problem, just like the previous action a few years ago. The problem is not the seven or eight school employees or volunteers who park on Corella Court, but it is the fact that the school is not providing adequate parking for their employees and volunteers. The problem did not exist until approximately 7 years ago, when the Board of Education built an addition onto Hawes School. That edition not only increased the facility footprint, but also the amount of staff necessary at the school. At the same time, it decreased the number of parking spaces in the rear parking lot. Parking spaces in the rear parking lot were reduced from 39 to 26 spaces. In the current proposal, Stevens Avenue and Corella Court will be closed off via parking restrictions, and it is only a matter of time before the residents of South Pleasant Avenue, Dorchester Road, and Ellington Road experience the same problems, and they will be seeking relief. Mr. Brandes says it is time to fix the problem, and time for the Village to have a discussion with the Board of Education and require them to address the problem of providing adequate parking for all of their staff and volunteers. Mr. Brandes says the property at Hawes School is adequate to allow for the additional on-site parking at the school. That will allow the residents to entertain guests in their homes without the burden of the unnecessary parking restrictions.
Ms. Sonenfeld stated that she agreed with Mr. Brandes that the real problem is that when construction was done at many of the Ridgewood schools, parking was not given any consideration. It has now become an issue. After having walked Corella Court with Christopher Rutishauser, Village Engineer, there is a serious situation in that area. Emergency vehicles cannot get in and out, and people cannot back out of their driveways. Ms. Sonenfeld notified Daniel Fishbein, Superintendent of Schools, of the situation, and she suggested that he consider reconfiguring the parking at the school, just as was done at the Route 17 Park-and-Ride, which yielded more parking spaces. Mr. Brandes noted that there is a right-of-way that goes to one of the Village’s pumping stations along the edge of the school property. If part of that can be made available, it would also help solve the on-site parking problem.
Councilman Sedon apologized to Mr. Brandes, stating that he received Mr. Brandes’s letter, and he discussed it with Mr. Rutishauser who was assessing the situation, but he did not follow up with Mr. Brandes. Councilman Sedon assumed that Mr. Rutishauser would get back to Mr. Brandes with a response. Ms. Sonenfeld noted that Mr. Rutishauser did speak to some of the residents in that area.
Sally Brandes, 515 Stevens Avenue, stated that they did not receive a response to their letter. Ms. Sonenfeld noted that the process seems to be flawed, because they asked for input from the residents of a particular area, and they take those concerns to the Citizens Safety Advisory Committee, who discuss them, but do not always respond. Ms. Brandes asked the Councilmembers to take note of the fact that Corella Court is five feet wider than Stevens Avenue. She also pointed out that the school buses come down Stevens Avenue, and because Corella Court is a dead-end street, there is very little traffic going back and forth along that street. The pictures Mr. Brandes distributed to the Councilmembers were taken today, and Ms. Brandes pointed out the cars parked along Corella Court up to the corners. There are also children crossing the streets, adding to the danger. The situation on Stevens Avenue is worse than that on Corella Court, due to the school buses that traverse Stevens Avenue. There was a concern expressed about emergency vehicles in that area, and Ms. Brandes noted that no emergency vehicles would be able to get to Corella Court at all with the situation on Stevens Avenue. Ms. Brandes pointed out that this situation occurs day after day, year after year. She has sympathy for the staff of Hawes School, because it is not their fault that they lost parking. There is extra room in the back lot at Hawes School for parking to be reconfigured. Ms. Brandes mentioned that Hawes School is one of the few schools that has ample space to reconfigure its parking. She asked the Councilmembers to consider the suggestions made by Mr. Brandes, because Stevens Avenue is more dangerous than it ever was. Ms. Brandes urged the Councilmembers to delay taking a vote on this issue, and Ms. Sonenfeld pointed out that the ordinance will only be introduced tonight. Ms. Brandes asked the Councilmembers to figure out how to alleviate the situation before a final vote is taken on the ordinance, and consider the danger to children that is ever-present in that area. Ms. Sonenfeld mentioned that she started the discussion today with Dr. Fishbein on this subject.
Regarding the discussion earlier among Ms. Hinsdale, Councilwoman Knudsen, Councilman Sedon, and the rest of the Councilmembers, Ms. Brandes recalled that when she was a Board of Education member, they developed a policy in which they invited the School Board Attorney to come once a year to brief current and new Board members on changes in the law and other pertinent issues at a special meeting. Ms. Brandes does not know if the Board of Education still does that, but it was a policy some years ago. She suggested that, instead of requiring the Councilmembers to get themselves up to speed, it would be worthwhile for all of the Councilmembers to get updates on the law and information on other pertinent issues. It would also be helpful for members of the public who come to these Village Council meetings, because the public also has a lot of questions.
Janice Willet, 207 Prospect Street, stated that she wanted to speak briefly about the residency requirements. Ms. Willet is a member of the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC), but she was at this meeting to speak as a resident of Ridgewood, not on behalf of the FAC. This issue has not been discussed by the FAC at all as a group, and Ms. Willet is not in any position to represent the FAC’s view.
As a resident, Ms. Willet stated that she supports the proposed change to the ordinance eliminating the residency requirement from non-public safety positions. After the discussion this evening, Ms. Willet said she would have thought that the Village is clearly in a better position to hire the best person for the job if the residency requirement is eliminated. However, given the discussion about the “Rule of Three” and the Civil Service regulations, Ms. Willet is not sure that the Village would completely reach that point, but she believes the proposed ordinance change brings the Village closer to the point of being able to hire the best person for the job. In any case, Ms. Willet does not see how changing the ordinance would prevent the Village from considering residency requirements, or hiring a Village resident. In essence, it gives the Village more options, rather than fewer options. Ms. Willet believes it protects the Village against having to give unequal weights to residency at the expense of other, more relevant qualifications. Furthermore, residency requirements can often be circumvented. They have historically been associated with patronage, and Ms. Willet does not believe that the Village should be perpetuating that. She encouraged the Councilmembers to vote for the proposed change.
Bernadette Walsh, 444 Red Birch Court, stated that she attended the Village Council meeting held last week. She was one of only about seven people in attendance that evening, and she was the last to leave. Ms. Walsh was standing at the back of the courtroom, and had a full view of the caucus room. Ms. Walsh witnessed when Mayor Aronsohn opened the door for Councilwoman Knudsen, and then started screaming at her. Mayor Aronsohn voice drowned out the conversation Ms. Walsh was having with Councilman Pucciarelli. This was followed by additional screaming by Ms. Sonenfeld. Ms. Walsh stated unequivocally that nowhere in the United States of America is it acceptable in the workplace to scream, either singly or in tandem, at another coworker. It is considered harassment and intimidation, and Ms. Walsh was glad that Ms. Hinsdale was at this meeting to hear these comments. It is also not acceptable for any other employee to witness or be subjected to this behavior, in this case, Ms. Mailander. The front page of the Village website directs residents to resolution #08-303, which was moved by then-Councilman Aronsohn for adoption and signed on November 12, 2008, by then-Mayor Pfund with protections against such behavior.
Ms. Walsh reached out to Councilwoman Knudsen the following day and offered her a piece of advice, which Councilwoman Knudsen heeded. Ms. Walsh commented that the document of level of impropriety, corruption, or perhaps sheer stupidity that followed last week’s meeting is incomprehensible. Ms. Walsh does not expect Mayor Aronsohn or Ms. Sonenfeld to offer apologies to their coworkers, because she believes that would be disingenuous. However, Ms. Walsh does expect Councilman Pucciarelli, Councilwoman Hauck, and Councilman Sedon to act on this information in their capacities as members of the governing body, and as provided by law. After listening to the comments made by Ms. Hinsdale this evening, Ms. Walsh is not sure that Ms. Hinsdale could be an advocate for Councilwoman Knudsen. She also suggested that Councilman Pucciarelli, Councilwoman Hauck, and Councilman Sedon should seek legal advice for Councilwoman Knudsen. Councilman Sedon thanked Ms. Walsh for her comments, and added that he was unaware of what transpired because he was absent from the last meeting. However, he thanked Ms. Walsh for bringing it to his attention.
Mayor Aronsohn responded that Ms. Walsh’s statement was completely inaccurate from his perspective, but he said it would not be discussed at this time. He added that the subject is on the agenda for the Closed Session meeting tonight, and that he and Ms. Sonenfeld are also investigating the situation. Ms. Sonenfeld stated that she was floored by the accounts given by Ms. Walsh, because according to Ms. Sonenfeld, it happened the other way around. She asserted that there were witnesses to what happened, and that Ms. Sonenfeld was yelled at, and Councilwoman Knudsen told Ms. Sonenfeld that she “must” take certain actions. Ms. Sonenfeld stated that she has also compiled a report on what happened, and it is on the agenda for Closed Session tonight. Ms. Walsh asked if it is on the agenda for Closed Session as a personnel matter, or to discuss a policy, because if it is a policy matter, that does not meet the criteria for Closed Session meetings. Ms. Sonenfeld responded that it is on the agenda for Closed Session as a discussion of workplace policy. Ms. Walsh asked if Councilwoman Knudsen was notified that it would be discussed as a personnel issue. Councilwoman Knudsen interjected to state that what she said was “Please stop talking to me like that,” and “Please do not talk to me like that again”. She continued by saying that she was uncomfortable with and shaken by what happened to her, and she simply said “Please do not speak to me like that again”. Councilwoman Knudsen stands by that statement.
Mayor Aronsohn stated that these issues will have to be resolved, and he takes exception to the statements made by Ms. Walsh, because he said it did not happen that way. He and Ms. Sonenfeld have also filed reports, and the situation is being investigated, and will be resolved.
Councilwoman Hauck said she found it to be a frightening experience, and she thought that Ms. Sonenfeld was being personally threatened, and the volume level of Councilwoman Knudsen’s voice was second only to blows. Ms. Walsh commented that Councilwoman Hauck was not there, because she saw Councilwoman Hauck as Ms. Walsh was exiting the building up the stairs. Ms. Sonenfeld and Mayor Aronsohn contradicted Ms. Walsh by saying that Councilwoman Hauck was present, as was Ms. Mailander.
Dave Sloman, 36 Heights Road, said he has spoken to Ms. Sonenfeld about this on occasion, as well as with Mayor Aronsohn. Mr. Sloman has some ideas on how the Village can and should do a much better job of communicating with residents. As Councilwoman Knudsen noted earlier, she needed information on an issue, and Mr. Sloman pointed out that as residents of Ridgewood, the public is part of that process, and they need to feel more included. He recalled that Mayor Aronsohn has spoken often about the level of discourse and keeping things simple so everyone can work together, and tempers tend to rise when information is not available. Mr. Sloman mentioned the issues concerning Garber Square, as well as the issue of high-density housing, which many residents feel was not publicized enough to give them adequate information on the issue. A similar situation exists with the North Walnut Street Redevelopment Zone, which has been discussed for quite a while. Mr. Sloman stated that he has heard quite often that if one does not attend the Village Council meetings, or does not read the newspaper, it is one’s own fault for not being well informed. Mr. Sloman believes that the Village could do more to help the public get educated about the larger issues that are being discussed. Village residents volunteer in many different activities, and are often not home until late in the evening. Mr. Sloman mentioned that the Village website is currently being updated, and he would love to see a page specifically devoted to big projects or issues that are currently under discussion, whether by the Planning Board or the Village Council. He suggested that the page could be followed up with a weekly or monthly newsletter, such as the one produced by Ridgewood High School. The newsletter could also include a link to information about these major projects or issues in Ridgewood. It will help the public to be able to help the Village Council, and will also allow Ridgewood residents to be part of the conversation.
Mayor Aronsohn said he appreciated the comments made by Mr. Sloman, and based on his conversations with Mr. Sloman, the current website now has an area devoted to the North Walnut Street Redevelopment Zone. In addition, Mayor Aronsohn and Ms. Sonenfeld have discussed with Dylan Hansen, the Village Information Technology Specialist, that a policy section should be included on the new Village website. He asked Mr. Sloman to give input about the new website. Mr. Sloman said it is important to let people know via newsletter that the information is available on the website.
Former Mayor Keith Killion, Sr., 315 Willow Court, said he has had the privilege of working with Ms. Hinsdale during his 30-year career as a police officer on both sides of the table for negotiations. Ms. Hinsdale is well-versed in Civil Service matters, as is Former Mayor Killion. Civil Service laws are very difficult to understand, and Former Mayor Killion suggested that the residency requirement ordinance be tabled for one meeting until every one of the Councilmembers can be brought up to speed on exactly what everything means, and they are all comfortable with understanding that part of Civil Service regulations. Former Mayor Killion stated that a part of the problem is that many of the Councilmembers do not understand the issue that is being voted on. It would give each Councilmember the opportunity to speak to Ms. Hinsdale to clarify any areas about Civil Service and residency requirements that they do not currently understand.
Finally, Former Mayor Killion believes that the Village Council is reaching the point where some Councilmembers might be willing to vote on an ordinance without really understanding the law. For transparency purposes and to put a lot of Ridgewood residents at ease, Former Mayor Killion recommended that it might be worthwhile for everyone to educate themselves.
Councilman Pucciarelli responded that he never votes for anything unless he understands it, and he knows exactly what he is voting on this evening. Furthermore, he did not like the suggestion that the Councilmembers vote for things without knowing what they are. Former Mayor Killion pointed out that there are four other Councilmembers, and it was not all about Councilman Pucciarelli.
Jim Griffith, 159 South Irving Street, said he wanted to make some comments about nepotism. He reminded Ms. Sonenfeld that she said she had done her homework, and found out that in Bergen County, 32 municipalities are moving forward with plans to eliminate nepotism. Mr. Griffith stated that when he worked for the Bendix Corporation, where the number of employees ranged from 6,000-12,000 in the 35 years that he worked there, Human Resources was constantly looking over their shoulders, and nepotism was a problem, but it was dealt with. There were two articles in the newspaper this week about nepotism, which were both editorial comments made in the Bergen Record in support of eliminating nepotism. Initially, Mr. Griffith did not believe he needed to make a statement about nepotism following the discussion at the previous Village Council meeting, but after hearing the comments made by Ms. Hinsdale tonight, he changed his mind. Mr. Griffith believes that nepotism should be eliminated.
Regarding the accusations of Village Councilmembers and staff yelling or screaming at colleagues, Mr. Griffith said he was very surprised that anyone would think that was acceptable. Finally, Mr. Griffith praised the Councilmembers or how they are handling the situation, and encouraged them to keep handling things the same way.
Marcia Ringel, 250 Ferris Place, is the Co-Chairperson of the Preserve Graydon Coalition. She recalled that several weeks ago, there were concerns expressed about keeping Graydon Pool open because schools will start before Labor Day in September. It is not unprecedented, but it is unusual. Because of that discussion, Ms. Ringel has been consistently visiting the Village website to see if pool hours have been posted. The hours were posted yesterday, and Ms. Ringel noted that, according to the Village website, for the first nine weekdays of the 2015 summer season (through June 18th), and the last 10 weekdays of the season at the end of August, Graydon Pool will open at 12:00 noon, which has been done intermittently over the years. Ms. Ringel pointed out that it means that for 19 days, the pool will lose two hours each day of being open, for a total of 38 hours. However, Ms. Ringel found it most shocking when she read that Graydon Pool would be closed for the entire week before Labor Day weekend, from Monday, August 31-Friday, September 4.
Ms. Ringel did some research into other municipalities with pools to see how they were handling the coordination of the pool hours with the school calendar, and she discovered it was very hard to get information on both issues from other municipalities. After making phone calls, Ms. Ringel still got very limited information, but she did not find any municipal pool that was going to close early, although it seems that starting school before Labor Day this year will be fairly common among Bergen County municipalities. For example, the Cresskill pool will be open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and Ms. Ringel pointed out that Graydon Pool has never been open on Memorial Day, like other pools. Cresskill schools will be opening before Labor Day. Likewise, the pool in Mahwah will be open through Labor Day, although Ms. Ringel was unable to get information about their school calendar. Ms. Ringel said that Glen Rock seems to be very well-organized and customer-service-oriented, which Ridgewood does not seem to be. The municipal pool in Glen Rock, which also has evening hours in the summer, will also be open every weekday after Labor Day through September 25th from 6:00 A.M.-11:00 A.M., and will be open on weekends from 8:00 A.M.-6:00 P.M. through September 25th. The school schedule in Glen Rock is the same as that in Ridgewood.
Ms. Ringel asked if the Village is advertising widely for Graydon Pool staff, who must be extremely well-trained, or are they being paid so little in Ridgewood that they would rather work elsewhere. She asked if members of high school and college swim teams are being approached, as well as their coaches. In addition, Ms. Ringel wondered if advertisements are being placed in areas where swim team members and coaches might be looking for jobs. Ms. Ringel also thought that the Village Council determines the hours and fees at Graydon Pool. In past years, when she has come to Village Council meetings to discuss those issues, she was always told by the Councilmembers that it was not within their purview to discuss that, and Ms. Ringel would have to take it up with someone else. However, it seems to Ms. Ringel that the Village Council made those decisions. She recalled one year when the Village website indicated that Graydon Pool would open at 3:00 P.M., yet she was told by the Village Council that it would not be opening at that time. Ms. Ringel wanted to know what has changed; why this is not a public discussion; why Graydon Pool will be closed when the weather is still suitable for swimming; if the Councilmembers care about the quality of life of Ridgewood residents; if they care about attracting young families with children; and what will be happening with senior citizens. Ms. Ringel noted that young children comprise a large part of the Graydon Pool population, but they are not the only population there.
Ms. Ringel recalled that several years ago, it was decided to open Graydon Pool season passes to non-residents. She asked how decreasing the hours of operation would encourage that, instead of having the non-residents go elsewhere, where they can swim when it is hot outside. Ms. Ringel said she does not understand why Graydon Pool would be closed the week before Labor Day, and if staffing is an issue, perhaps part of the pool could be shut down, which is done consistently all summer. If Graydon Pool is considered to be a business, and there is a concern about revenue, Ms. Ringel asked where the customer service is, since the fees are consistently increased, yet the hours of operation are decreased. Ms. Ringel said the members of her organization are worried and wondering about the motivation behind this action, and they are hoping that Graydon Pool will not be closed during the week before Labor Day weekend. They also hope that efforts will be made to get sufficient staff, because the pool will be open up to that point, and it will be necessary to keep it clean in order to have it open for Labor Day weekend.
Councilwoman Knudsen responded that, approximately one week ago, she emailed Councilwoman Hauck and Ms. Sonenfeld, because Councilwoman Knudsen heard the comments made about Graydon Pool. Councilwoman Hauck responded to the email, and indicated that everything was ready for the pool to open, including a contract for the Water’s Edge Café, and the conditions of the contract specify that Graydon Pool will remain open until September 7, 2015. There are some challenges with keeping the pool open, but Councilwoman Hauck indicated that creative ways would be sought to keep Graydon Pool open. Councilwoman Knudsen offered her assistance with any creative suggestions to try to increase membership. Councilwoman Knudsen also emailed Ms. Sonenfeld, who indicated that the pool would be open through Labor Day.
Ms. Sonenfeld recalled that she mentioned last week that there was a challenge involved in keeping the pool open, and it would be reviewed. She stated that the pool would have to close from August 31-September 4, due to a lack of lifeguards and pool management (the law requires certified pool operators to be in attendance when the pool is open). Ms. Sonenfeld also checked with other municipalities, as Ms. Ringel did, including Glen Rock. She pointed out that the way pool staffing is determined differently in each municipality, especially since Graydon Pool is considered a “bathing beach classification 1” pool. As a result, the number of lifeguards is not determined by the number of people in the pool, but the size of the pool. Graydon Pool requires one lifeguard stand for every 200 feet, which means that at least eight lifeguard stands have to be manned by 1-2 lifeguards, without any obstructions in sight. On the other hand, the Glen Rock pool has different requirements, which is one lifeguard for every 60 people, since it has a cement bottom. Moreover, after contacting the Glen Rock pool, Ms. Sonenfeld discovered that during the week of August 31 through Labor Day weekend, the pool will only be open for laps, with one lifeguard, which is all that is required by law. The Fair Lawn pool will be operated on the same basis as Ridgewood, and they will re-open for Labor Day weekend. Ms. Sonenfeld added that the certified pool operators who must be present when the pool is open are teachers, and many of the lifeguards are high school or college students, and must go back to school.
Regarding the 19 days/38 hours mentioned by Ms. Ringel, Ms. Sonenfeld said she would look into that. She noted that it was never question of revenue, but only of safety. Ms. Ringel responded that she believes it is a question of the Councilmembers supporting Graydon Pool, and these issues could be resolved if any of the Councilmembers really wanted to do so.
Councilwoman Hauck commented that the statements made by Ms. Sonenfeld were a change from what she had been told, and it had not been announced to the Department of Parks and Recreation, so as the liaison, Councilwoman Hauck had no way of knowing of this change. Ms. Ringel asked if it is now within the purview of the Village Manager and the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation to make decisions about operating hours and dates for Graydon Pool, without discussing it with the Village Council, or discussing it in public. Ms. Sonenfeld mentioned that she did inform the Councilmembers at the previous meeting that there was an issue, and that it might be necessary to close the pool the week before Labor Day.
Councilwoman Knudsen asked what authority the Village Council has with respect to the facility staying open, and what is the Village Council position with respect to assisting in facilitating that. Mayor Aronsohn explained that decisions have always been made in cooperation with Village management and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Councilwoman Knudsen surmised that there would be some further discussion about this, and wondered if closing the pool is a decision that can be changed. Ms. Sonenfeld responded that because there is no staffing available for Graydon Pool, it creates a safety issue if the pool is kept open. Ms. Ringel pointed out that Graydon Pool passes have been on sale through the Village website for the past eight days, and people were purchasing those passes in good faith that the pool would remain open through Labor Day.
Lorraine Reynolds, 550 Wyndemere Avenue, read a statement on behalf of Anne Loving, 342 South Irving Street, who was unable to attend this meeting. Last week, Ms. Loving submitted a written request to Ms. Mailander, asking whether Ms. Loving would be permitted to phone in her comments during the public comment portion of this meeting. Today, Ms. Loving learned via email from Mr. Rogers that it is not possible at this time. Specifically, Mr. Rogers informed Ms. Loving that there is no requirement that such a practice be made available to members of the public who are not in attendance at the meeting, pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act. Furthermore, Mr. Rogers stated that Ms. Loving could, if she wished, raise the question to see if the Councilmembers would consider it as policy, but it is not required. In looking at the proposed amendments to the Open Public Meetings Act that have been recently considered by the State legislature, but not adopted, this was not in any of the amendments Mr. Rogers read. Ms. Loving stated that she appreciated the time and research put in by Ms. Mailander and Mr. Rogers regarding her question. Nevertheless, Ms. Loving was quite disheartened to find that there seems to be an inequity, because Councilwoman Hauck was able to communicate electronically, making comments and voting while she was in Africa on July 1, 2015. Ms. Loving expressed appreciation to Ms. Reynolds for reading her statement, and added that she hoped that the time it took to read the statement would not be considered part of the five-minute allotment for any comments Ms. Reynolds wished to make.
Next, Ms. Reynolds thanked Councilwoman Knudsen for doing her due diligence on matters before the Village Council. Ms. Reynolds appreciated the hard work Councilwoman Knudsen was doing, and took exception to the incidents that occurred over the past few weeks, when others implied that Councilwoman Knudsen was wasting someone’s time when asking for information to help her make an informed decision. Tonight, Councilwoman Hauck mentioned that Councilwoman Knudsen was not very “cordial,” and Ms. Reynolds disagreed with that. She suggested that everyone go back and review the past several Village Council meetings. Ms. Reynolds does not understand how Councilwoman Knudsen kept her control during those meetings. She pointed out that Councilwoman Hauck, Mayor Aronsohn, and Councilman Pucciarelli, on separate occasions over the past weeks, acted disgracefully in attacking Councilwoman Knudsen. Ms. Reynolds commended Councilwoman Knudsen for being the epitome of grace under fire and keeping her composure. She assured Councilwoman Knudsen that all of Ridgewood is behind her, and they appreciate her due diligence.
Finally, Ms. Reynolds read some quotes from previous Village Council meetings about Ms. Sonenfeld, to the effect that she is “one of us”; she pays our taxes; she lives in the neighborhood; she “gets it”; she has raised her children in Ridgewood; and Ridgewood is extremely blessed to find someone who lives in the Village. Those were statements made by Mayor Aronsohn and Councilwoman Hauck when voting to hire Ms. Sonenfeld. Although it is not a Civil Service position, Ms. Reynolds wondered why being a Ridgewood resident made a difference, and was considered a positive qualification for hiring Ms. Sonenfeld as Village Manager, yet would not be considered a positive for Civil Service positions.
Regarding the statements of Ms. Loving, Mr. Rogers stated that it was brought to his attention by Ms. Mailander, who received the initial inquiry. He invited Ms. Loving to bring it up to the Village Council, and he hoped that the Councilmembers would take it on as a policy issue. Mr. Rogers explained that the difference between what happened with Councilwoman Hauck at the Reorganization Meeting, and affording members of the public who did not attend the meeting the opportunity to speak at the meeting is that one is allowed by law, and the law is silent with respect to the other situation. Ms. Mailander did check with other municipalities to see how they handled that issue, and the response from the Bergen County Municipal Clerks was that it is not something that is promoted, and the logistics for such a procedure have not been dealt with. The Open Public Meetings Act specifically provides for allowing a public representative to attend the meeting via remote means, but it is silent with respect to public participation, other than the fact that every municipal meeting must include a public comments section for anyone who attends the meeting. That is why Mr. Rogers invited Ms. Loving to speak at this meeting, to see if the Councilmembers would consider that as a policy.
Ms. Mailander commented that she received the email from Ms. Loving on Saturday, April 4th, so she was unable to take any action on it until Monday, April 6th, when she forwarded it to Mr. Rogers. Ms. Sonenfeld added that she discussed it with Ms. Mailander, and after checking with many other municipalities, it seems that no one has such provisions for their meetings. In addition, the attorney for the Municipal Clerks’ Association of New Jersey indicated that, based on the available technology, now is not the time to allow this at public meetings. However, Ms. Sonenfeld said that does not mean it should not be considered, but there are many ancillary items that would have to be considered along with the basic premise of allowing the public to remotely “join” a public meeting.
Tom Graham, 501 Stevens Avenue, said that his house is approximately 125 feet north of Corella Court, on the east side of the street. On a normal day, people drop their children off for school across from his house, with a car parked opposite his driveway, and more cars parked near his house. They usually enter and exit the area within a 10-minute span, but if one considers the vehicles coming out of Corella Court, and lineup another 12 cars, which will be parking from 7:30 A.M.-4:00 P.M., Mr. Stevens stated that it will create dangerous conditions on his street. This is because people will be dropping off their children while buses are stopping to pick up and drop off children, as well as cars trying to maneuver through the street. The problem is exacerbated when there is snow. The street is not wide enough to allow cars to pass each other. Mr. Graham is more concerned about the safety of the children on his street. He pointed out that at the end of Corella Court, there is access to a County park. People on bicycles cross the street, and in good weather, there are many joggers, which makes it a busy area. Mr. Graham does not believe that the Board of Education will provide any short-term relief in the form of additional parking at the school, so the question becomes a matter of allowing traffic to pass safely through that area, as well as allowing children and other pedestrians to maneuver safely. Mr. Graham believes that a dead-end street, such as Corella Court, is a better place for the vehicles than a busy school street like Stevens Avenue.
Dolores Graham, 501 Stevens Avenue, mentioned that many times, she cannot exit her driveway due to the number of service vehicles in the area, as well as the rest of the traffic caused by the proximity of the school and park. She is concerned about getting out of her driveway safely. The current proposal is merely moving the Corella Court problem to Stevens Avenue, which becomes Ms. Graham’s problem.
Rurik Halaby, 374 Evergreen Place, said he has been following the debates regarding the residency requirements in the press. He suggested that the Councilmembers make sure to insulate the discussion against any possible charges of conflict of interest, and they should ensure that anything they do is guided solely by what is good for the Village. The second suggestion was that the Councilmembers should de-politicize the discussion, and they should seek guidance from Ms. Sonenfeld and Mr. Rogers to do that. Mr. Halaby commented that Mr. Rogers is a very able attorney, who can always steer the Councilmembers in the right direction. He also mentioned that Ms. Sonenfeld is probably the brightest Village Manager that Ridgewood has had since Mr. Halaby moved here 45 years ago. Mr. Halaby also noted that the Councilmembers should seek advice from Ms. Mailander.
Bob Fuhrman, 49 Clinton Avenue, thanked Ms. Hinsdale for her comments, because Mr. Fuhrman had quite a list of questions, and she was able to clarify most of them for him. Mr. Fuhrman has concerns about the hiring parameters that are being discussed, and why the uniformed services are exempt from the parameters. It seems to Mr. Fuhrman that the Village would want to hire the best candidates for the Fire and Police Departments, as well as the Emergency Management Team. Mr. Fuhrman recalled that the Ridgewood Police Department was investigated for hiring improprieties, but that was cleared up. There was also a Councilmember whose business had a contract with the Village, which was also cleared up. Mr. Fuhrman believes it incumbent upon the Councilmembers to clarify for the public whether any of the Councilmembers has a family member who is doing business with the Village, or who is being considered to do business with the Village. In the interests of transparency and full disclosure, Mr. Fuhrman also asked if any Councilmember has a family member who is a Village employee, and/or on a waiting list for employment. He believes the public is entitled to know these things.
Councilwoman Knudsen responded that, for the purposes of this discussion and the residency requirement issue, the residency requirements would exclude any public safety positions. Her oldest son has been a volunteer firefighter for five years for the Village. He is not on any list for the Ridgewood Fire Department. Councilwoman Knudsen’s three sons took the Civil Service examination for the Police Department in October 2013. Their numbers are 18, 21, and 24 (approximately). The list will expire in May 2016. Councilwoman Knudsen explained that her sons took the examination as a practice test, because two of them have no desire to be police officers, while the other one does. Therefore, she has no conflict or business dealings with the Village. Furthermore, she has never engaged in any conversation regarding any Police Department matter, and she makes no apologies for the fact that her son is a volunteer firefighter, or for the fact that her three sons have taken the Civil Service examination. Although the discussion has always been about residency requirements for civilian positions in the Village, Councilwoman Knudsen noted that, for some reason, the fact that her sons are on the Police Department list has been repeatedly insinuated into the conversation.
Councilwoman Knudsen mentioned the letter that Mr. Rogers is sending to the New Jersey State Ethics Commission, and she pointed out that she was asked on a number of occasions to recuse herself, with one specific incident that has been discussed already. In fact, she changed her statement to say that she was “strongly recommended” or “strongly advised” to leave the room because of the appearance of a conflict of interest, and she was also advised that the Closed Session agenda item was left as the last item on the list so that Councilwoman Knudsen could go home, which is exactly what she did. She pointed out that the agenda item did not say anything about the Police or Fire Department, and that was her concern, but she did go home, as she was strongly advised to do so. The following day, Councilwoman Knudsen received an email in the afternoon from Councilman Sedon, which was sent to all of the Councilmembers, and which stated that there was no reason for Councilwoman Knudsen to recuse herself, because there was no discussion about the Police or Fire Department. Moreover, the letter dated December 29, 2014, stated that it was not about the public safety departments. Councilwoman Knudsen commented that the item did not belong in Closed Session, because it was being discussed as a policy issue, not as a personnel matter specifically related to a particular employee, who would have had to be given a RICE notice, if that were the case. Councilwoman Knudsen said she is very proud that she was able to bring the discussion to an open public meeting, which is where it belongs. However, she said she could not figure out why, when everything indicated that it had nothing to do with the Police or Fire Department, a suggestion was made that the discussion would be about Police Department contract negotiations. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that she was not suggesting that there was any impropriety, but she thought that the public should be concerned when items are put on a Closed Session agenda that do not belong on that agenda, but should be discussed in an open forum.
Mr. Fuhrman asked if any of the other Councilmembers have any issues that could be perceived as conflicts. Councilman Sedon responded that his children are too young to be employed, and that he is currently unemployed. This is due to the fact that his previous editor received an anonymous email claiming that there was a conflict of interest, for Councilman Sedon to run for Village Council, while at the same time being a reporter in the State of New York. A team of lawyers reviewed the situation very carefully, and it was determined that there was no conflict of interest.
Mayor Aronsohn asked Ms. Mailander and Mr. Rogers to address the issue raised by Councilwoman Knudsen about the Closed Session meeting, and whether the item in question should have been on the Closed Session agenda, which was discussed before. Ms. Mailander explained that for the most part, items are discussed in Open Session, because that is what the Open Public Meetings Act requires. The purpose of the OPMA is to bring transparency and allow the public to witness Village Council deliberations. There are exceptions, and in this particular case, the issue could have been discussed in Open or Closed Session. It was discussed in Closed Session the first time, and was discussed in Open Session the second time. Mr. Rogers stated that he hoped everyone could put an end to this, because he wanted to point out that in his discussions with Councilwoman Knudsen with respect to her recusal that night, before the Closed Session began, there was a discussion about what the topic was going to be. Based upon what was represented at that time, Mr. Rogers advised Councilwoman Knudsen to recuse herself from that discussion. Any advice given by Mr. Rogers to any Councilmember regarding a conflict of interest and a need to recuse him/herself is always done in the best interest of the Councilmember. The situation is a very fact-sensitive one, and there is no specific criteria that demands recusal in every instance. A number of different parameters are given, but one parameter that Mr. Rogers has learned as an attorney, and has advised any Councilmember about, is to consider what the Councilmember’s worst political enemy would say if s/he knew that the Councilmember participated in that discussion. Mr. Rogers said that is the litmus test as far as attorneys and advice go, and that is why he advised Councilwoman Knudsen to recuse herself.
Frank Siccardi, 520 Stevens Avenue, stated that his house is on the corner of Corella Court and Stevens Avenue. He commented that having a stop sign on Corella Court would further impede traffic at that corner. Mr. Siccardi has lived there for 40 years, and has never seen any problems as far as safety issues are concerned. Regarding the two-hour parking limit on Corella Court, Mr. Siccardi believes it will only force the employees of Hawes School to park on Stevens Avenue. Stevens Avenue is an already crowded street with school buses, people who are visiting the park, and people who are dropping off or picking up their children at school. Mr. Siccardi believes that there should be some all-day parking spaces available on Corella Court to help school staff. The best solution, in Mr. Siccardi’s opinion, would be to create more parking spaces at Hawes School. That would take care of the problems in the Corella Court/Stevens Avenue area.
Carolyn Crumb, 505 Corella Court, said her house is one of only five houses on Corella Court, which is a very small street. Ms. Crumb said that she has lived in her house for nearly 50 years, and there was never a parking problem until the addition was built to Hawes School, and a lot of parking at the school was taken away. Ms. Crumb commented that there is no need for a stop sign on Corella Court, and the Village could save its money. Nor does the area need a two-hour parking limit, which will not help anyone who wants to spend time at the park. Ms. Crumb reiterated that parking was not a problem until the school was renovated, and the solution is to add parking spaces for staff on the school property. Ms. Crumb wrote a letter to Mr. Rutishauser with her suggestions.
There were no other comments from the public at this time, and Mayor Aronsohn closed the time for public comment.
6. MANAGER’S REPORT
Ms. Sonenfeld started her Manager’s report by discussing the 2015 budget. A third budget review was held with Village staff and the Village Council on April 6th, at which time they reviewed the 2015 anticipated revenues. In addition, a capital budget update was provided, based on changes made from previous budget reviews. Funding recommendations for the Ridgewood Public Library were also reviewed, and three budget alternatives were presented at that meeting. There is a recommended budget alternative, which includes increased investments in services, as well as people, resulting in a 1.2% tax increase, or approximately $46.72 annually per average household. The premium budget, which is not being recommended, reduces the risk of terminal leave, and increases Public Library funding and garden upkeep, resulting in a 1.62% tax increase. The third alternative, the reduced investment budget, resulted in a .81% tax increase, but takes out a lot of investments. Ms. Sonenfeld encouraged everyone to attend the budget review meetings. There will be a final review session on Monday, April 13th, when the Village Council will decide which budget will be pursued. The 2015 budget will be officially introduced on April 22, 2015, at the Village Council meeting, with a Public Hearing and consideration for adoption on May 27, 2015. All of the budget meetings and Village Council meetings are televised live.
Regarding parking, Ms. Sonenfeld noted that the eight-hour parking limit in the Cottage Place parking lot will be effective April 14, 2015. The meters have to be recalibrated, which is currently being done. Insurance checks were received for the coin theft last week, and were immediately deposited. The checks total approximately $750,000. Installation of the sealed canisters for coin collection from single-head meters is approximately 50% completed.
Next, Ms. Sonenfeld discussed the North Walnut Street Redevelopment Zone. Last week, she reported that Kensington Senior Housing had agreed to reimburse the Village for the financial analysis of their proposal. Langan Development just informed Ms. Sonenfeld that they reconsidered their proposal, and have not agreed to reimburse the Village for a financial review unless the Village Council will reconsider the density. Ms. Sonenfeld stated that the Village would not do that, because the density was out of conformance with the zoning criteria in the Redevelopment Zone. Specifically, in their original request, Langan asked the Village to consider 27 units per acre, which is approximately double what the zoning criteria provides. As a result, the Village is not currently working with Langan Development. There are other proposals that can be re-examined, but at this time, the focus will be on continuing discussions with Kensington Senior Housing.
Ms. Sonenfeld gave some information about Ridgewood Recycling. In 2014, approximately 4,600 tons of recycling material was collected in the Village. One of the important aspects of recycling is to reduce solid waste, and the total collected in 2014 showed a 38% reduction of solid waste, which saved the Village approximately $286,000 in landfill fees. The Village received approximately $80,000 in grants, and earned approximately $224,000 from selling recycled materials. Ms. Sonenfeld pointed out that commodity prices for recycled materials have dropped consistently since 2011. Ridgewood started holding free confidential document shredding days in 2009, and since that program started, 37 tons of material have been shredded. This Saturday, April 11th, will be the first of two shredding days in 2015. It will be held at the Recycling Center, from 9:00 A.M.-12:30 P.M. It is open to all Ridgewood residents.
Ms. Sonenfeld mentioned that a new Green Guide has been compiled, which has received a lot of positive comments in the recycling community, and was highlighted in a national webinar sponsored by Curbside Value Partnership. In addition, Travell School won a recycling challenge for recycling 875 pounds of plastic bags. Ms. Sonenfeld learned that plastic bags are a real problem from a recycling standpoint, because they clog the recycling machines. Therefore, residents are asked to bring their plastic bags to Stop & Shop or Whole Foods, where they have recycling programs.
Next, Ms. Sonenfeld commented that the Village was forced to close Finca Restaurant on Friday, April 3rd, due to fire code violations. A routine fire inspection revealed significant inconsistencies with previous plans, so it was clear that significant renovations had taken place without permits. In addition, there were multiple violations. Two of the violations were rather serious, including the fact that the occupancy went from 69 to approximately 118 seats; there were not enough exits for that occupancy; and the cooking suppression system, which was over the kitchen downstairs, was inadequate. The decision was both easy and difficult, because it is never desirable to close a restaurant, particularly so close to Easter Weekend, but it was easy because the fire code violations were glaring ones. Ms. Sonenfeld mentioned that Tom Yotka, Director of the Building Department, met with the owner and the architect on Monday to try to help them get the restaurant re-opened as soon as possible.
The next “Meet the Manager” session will be on Thursday, April 23rd, in the Garden Room at Village Hall. The Holocaust Memorial Service will be held at West Side Presbyterian Church on Sunday, April 12th, at 7:30 P.M. There will be a free week-long fitness open house at the Ridgewood YMCA starting on April 12, 2015, and anyone who is interested can contact the YMCA for details. There will be a presentation on Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Village Hall on April 14th, at 11:00 A.M., which is open to the public. The Ridgewood Baseball Softball Association opening day parade will be on April 18th, beginning at 9:00 A.M. The Orpheus Club Men’s Chorus spring concert will be at Ridgewood United Methodist Church on April 18th and 19th at 4:00 P.M., and tickets are available in area stores. On April 19th, there will be a Ridgewood Fine Arts show and sale, with crafts for children and a dog parade, at Memorial Park at Van Neste Square from 11:00 A.M.-3:00 P.M.
Ms. Mailander interjected that on the Village calendar, it indicated that April 21st would be the final voter registration night for the Municipal Election, but that is incorrect. That is only true when there is a Municipal Election in May, but because there is no Municipal Election this year, the final voter registration night will be in May for the Primary Election, and it is noted on the Village calendar. There will be no voter registration at the Public Library on April 21st.
7. COUNCIL REPORTS
Planning Board – Councilwoman Knudsen commented that the Planning Board met last night at Village Hall. They had an open agenda, which provided them the opportunity to begin their work on the re-examination of the Village Master Plan and development regulations. Mr. Brancheau provided the Planning Board with a schedule and status update of actions from the 2006 re-examination report. Councilwoman Knudsen noted that this is a significant undertaking for the Planning Board, allowing only 10 months for the report to be adopted. The biggest challenge the Planning Board currently faces is allocating significant time and energy to the housing plan elements, which must be completed by the fall. This is as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision. The next Planning Board public meeting will be on Tuesday, April 21st, in the Sydney V. Stoldt, Jr., courtroom at Village Hall, at 7:30 P.M. for Board deliberations pertaining to the land-use plan element of the Master Plan AH2, B3, R, CR, and C-zone districts.
Historic Preservation Committee – Councilwoman Knudsen mentioned that the Historic Preservation Committee meeting, which was originally scheduled for tomorrow night, has been canceled due to a lack of applications.
Fourth of July Committee – Councilwoman Knudsen commented that the Fourth of July Committee will be meeting on Monday, April 13th, at 7:30 P.M., at the firehouse. She encouraged everyone to attend and help to continue one of Ridgewood’s most-loved traditions. Help is needed from people with expertise in vendor trucks and organizing certain functions of the event.
Councilwoman Knudsen also mentioned that, as previously reported, she and Councilman Pucciarelli met with Nancy Greene, Director of the Ridgewood Public Library, and her staff to discuss the Municipal Complex parking situation. During that meeting, it was brought to their attention that private businesses are utilizing the parking spaces at the Municipal Complex for staff parking. This is a rather significant issue, because parking is already very limited at Village Hall, and to have the parking spaces consumed by private businesses for any period of time limits access to Ridgewood residents who need to conduct business with the Village. Mr. Rogers advised that they should take the issue up with the Village Engineer and the Ridgewood Police Department to resolve it. Councilwoman Knudsen pointed out that there is no indication that there are any private parking arrangements, so the parking lot should be reserved for those wishing to conduct Village business. They plan to begin working on that issue this week.
Ridgewood Arts Council – Councilman Pucciarelli mentioned that the Ridgewood Arts Council is looking for trustees for the Ridgewood Arts Foundation, and anyone who is interested is invited to contact him or Linda Bradley, who is the Chairperson of the Ridgewood Arts Council.
CBD Forum – Councilman Pucciarelli noted that the next CBD forum is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, May 20th, from 7:30 P.M.-9:00 P.M., with more details to come as the date approaches.
Councilman Pucciarelli commended the Village employees and the Village Manager for the budget meetings. He said that he most recent budget meeting this past Monday was such a change from prior meetings, because the process has become more comprehensible, as well as more comprehensive, and very productive. He mentioned that the members of the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) also deserve credit for the cogent way in which information has been presented.
Councilman Pucciarelli turned to an issue raised by former Councilwoman Walsh, which is a policy of the Board of Education, that in order to be eligible for school busing, a family must live at least 2.5 miles from Ridgewood High School. The mileage limit is two miles for all of the other schools. However, Councilman Pucciarelli pointed out that administratively, exceptions can be made in the interest of safety. One such exception that was made years ago allows those living on the entire east side of Route 17 to be eligible for busing to Ridgewood High School, because there are unsafe conditions that warrant busing, specifically the lack of sidewalks. The issue raised by former Councilwoman Walsh, which may also affect others, is that anyone who attends school on the east side of Route 17, such as Immaculate Heart Academy, and the student lives within the 2.5 mile limit, should be eligible for busing due to the unsafe conditions. Councilman Pucciarelli discovered that allowing busing in such conditions depends on what the reason for the exception was, and he thinks it warrants further discussion with the present Board of Education. He stated that he would follow up with the Board of Education, and if others are affected by that same policy, Councilman Pucciarelli invited them to contact him.
Fields Committee – Councilwoman Hauck commented that the Fields Committee met this morning, and most of the discussion was with Nancy Greene, Director of the Ridgewood Public Library, with respect to parking at the Municipal Complex, and how it might be possible to encourage more people coming for sports events to use the Graydon South and Graydon North parking lots, as well as the Maple Field parking lot. The sports associations have agreed to post the suggestion on their websites. They also updated the addresses of those parking lots on their websites. In addition, GPS addresses have been assigned to those lots to enable people from out of town to find the parking lots.
Councilwoman Hauck stated that the Fields Committee also discussed the grievance policies, and where athletic committees can go to resolve issues if they cannot be resolved from within the committees, which is an on-going question.
Councilwoman Hauck mentioned that the next civility roundtable will be held on May 11th, and will be specifically addressing the topic of parents protecting their kids in athletic situations in which the parents over-react and may get too defensive, and other similar situations. Councilwoman Hauck recommended that everyone try to attend these roundtable discussions, because they can be very helpful when people are thrust into these types of situations.
Ridgewood Environmental Advisory Committee (REAC) – Councilman Sedon mentioned that the Earth Day celebration/Daffodil Festival will be held on April 19th. The Ridgewood Conservancy for Public Lands has partnered with REAC to sponsor the events for that day, 11:00 A.M.-3:00 P.M.
Ridgewood Green Team – Councilman Sedon commented that the Ridgewood Green Team met yesterday. They have delegated work to various members, with the result that there are several environmental initiatives that have already been completed. The information will be gathered and uploaded to Sustainable Jersey’s website, which will allow Ridgewood to become certified through them, and will open up grant opportunities for various green initiatives.
Regarding parking, Councilman Sedon stated that he was on vacation last week, and had an opportunity to go to Miami, Florida. Several weeks prior to that, Mr. Rutishauser had presented information about a fully-automated parking system built by Boomerang Systems. The technology is very new, and there are only a few garages like that in the country. One of them specifically mentioned by Mr. Rutishauser is in Miami, Florida, and Councilman Sedon took the opportunity to visit the garage. He shared photos of the garage, and wrote a report about his visit. He spoke to the building manager, who is a representative of Boomerang; the parking attendant; and the software engineer. This took place on March 28, 2015. Councilman Sedon found that the structure is 13 stories tall, with five bays and lifts that accommodate 480 parking spaces. Vehicles pull into the available bays and are lifted to a floor that has a parking space available for that vehicle. The vehicles are moved by 26 automated robots from the bays to the spaces, and back again. The robots are free-roaming, and each bay includes its own touchscreen interface, located to the left of the outside door. There is also an indoor waiting area that includes a touchscreen interface. Two flat-screen monitors, one outside undercover, and one inside, display wait times for vehicles, similar to displays commonly found in airports. There is one regular attendant. The Boomerang Systems representative, Mr. Patton, was happy to answer Councilman Sedon’s questions. Mr. Patton also gave Councilman Sedon a demonstration of how the system works by parking and retrieving his own vehicle, which Councilman Sedon documented with photographs. Councilman Sedon emphasized that his visit was completely unannounced, which he thought would allow an unbiased demonstration, since there would be no time to prepare tests or for any of the employees to “put their best foot forward,” as could be done with a pre-arranged visit.
Mr. Patton stated that the garage received its Certificate of Occupancy in October 2014, and through March 28, 2015, there were approximately 25 transactions with no issues. A transaction is simply a person parking or retrieving his/her vehicle. The garage is attached to a multi-unit residence, so the users do not pay to park their vehicles.
Councilman Sedon took photographs of the demonstration step-by-step, and he went through them for everyone’s benefit. The first photograph was of the touchscreen interface at Brickell House, which residents and employees use to park and retrieve vehicles. Because it is a condominium, residents are assigned a parking space and a key fob. Mr. Patton touched his key fob to the interface, and it greeted him by name. He then tapped the screen to retrieve his vehicle, which starts the process, as was shown in the ensuing photographs. Mr. Patton explained that the interfaces can be customized to accept various payment methods. However, residents do not need to pay to park their cars at this facility, so no payments were transacted at this time. The third photograph showed the indoor waiting area, with Mr. Patton’s vehicle being brought down on a lift to bay three. The car rests on a metal plate, with legs at each corner. This allows the bot to slide underneath the vehicle, raise it, and move it around the interior of the garage. Photos four and five showed the exterior of the garage as Mr. Patton and Councilman Sedon waited for the vehicle. Photo seven was another photograph of the bays, and photo eight shows that the parking structure is completely enclosed, with no windows.
Councilman Sedon also discovered that Boomerang did not answer requests for proposal. They work with Walker Parking Consultants, which is based in New Jersey, and is known to Village administration. Walker would build a 3-D model for any parking system based on a study that would identify how many bays would be needed to handle peak parking times; how long customers would have to wait during peak parking times; and changes in wait times with the inclusion of additional bays in its design.
In conclusion, Councilman Sedon found that the system operated quickly and smoothly, without noise. It was impressive to see personally, and Councilman Sedon believes this or a similar system should be further explored for implementation in the Village.
Mayor Aronsohn thanked Councilman Sedon for that report, and added that the Village is considering an automated parking system, as well as conventional parking systems, in addition to conventional systems that can be turned into automated parking systems in the future.
Mayor Aronsohn reported that he attended Easter in the Park, the Easter egg hunt that is sponsored annually by the Chamber of Commerce. There was a large number of children in attendance, including children from Ridgewood as well as from other towns. Mayor Aronsohn commended the Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring this annual event.
On Saturday, April 25th, the Bergen County Office of Disability Services will host an “Access for All” forum in Ridgewood. Officials from all 70 Bergen County municipalities are invited to attend. Some towns, like Ridgewood, have Access Committees, while others do not. This is a good opportunity to share information.
Chamber of Commerce – Mayor Aronsohn stated that the Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Board of Directors meeting this morning, and a lot of the time was spent discussing parking. The Chamber of Commerce has been a great supporter of the Village Council’s efforts to move forward with a solution to the parking problem in Ridgewood.
As Councilwoman Hauck mentioned, the civility roundtable discussions are very informative, and Reverend Jan Phillips facilitates the discussions. She engages everyone present, and the latest conversations turned to the issue of youth sports, and the issues surrounding that. It will be discussed again in May.
a. Introduction – #3471 – Amend Chapter 265 – Vehicles and Traffic – Definition of Loading Zones
Mayor Aronsohn moved the first reading of Ordinance 3471. Councilwoman Knudsen seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
The Village Clerk read Ordinance 3471 by title:
AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND CHAPTER 265 OF THE CODE OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD, VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC, AT SECTION 265-26, “LOADING ZONES”
Councilman Sedon moved that Ordinance 3471 be adopted on first reading and that May 13, 2015, be fixed as the date for the hearing thereon. Councilwoman Knudsen seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
b. Introduction – #3472 – Amend Chapter 265 – Vehicles and Traffic – Corella Court – Stop Sign and Two-Hour Parking Limit
Mayor Aronsohn moved the first reading of Ordinance 3472. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Councilwoman Knudsen asked what the procedure was to have this discussion tabled, as requested by the residents of that area, and Mayor Aronsohn responded that, as he previously suggested, it would probably be best to introduce the ordinance and then do any further research, as well as holding any discussions that might be necessary, prior to the Public Hearing on this ordinance at the May Public Meeting.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
The Village Clerk read Ordinance 3472 by title:
AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND CHAPTER 265 OF THE CODE OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD, VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC, AT SECTION 265-59, SCHEDULE IX, “STOP INTERSECTIONS,” AND SECTION 265-69, “TIME LIMIT PARKING”
Councilwoman Knudsen moved that Ordinance 3472 be adopted on first reading and that May 13, 2015, be fixed as the date for the hearing thereon. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
c. Introduction – #3473 – Amend Chapter 265 – Vehicles and Traffic – Delineation and Clarification of Yellow Zones on Curbs in Central Business District and Establish Vehicle Height Restrictions
Mayor Aronsohn moved the first reading of Ordinance 3473. Councilwoman Hauck seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
The Village Clerk read Ordinance 3473 by title:
AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND CHAPTER 265 OF THE CODE OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD, VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC, AT SECTION 265-16.1, “OVER HEIGHT VEHICLES,” AND AT SECTION 265-19, “PARKING PROHIBITED AT ALL TIMES”
Councilman Sedon moved that Ordinance 3473 be adopted on first reading and that May 13, 2015, be fixed as the date for the hearing thereon. Councilwoman Hauck seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, will and Mayor Aronsohn
d. Public Hearing – #3468 – Amend Chapter 145 – Fees – Construction Code Fees
Mayor Aronsohn moved the second reading of Ordinance 3468 and that the Public Hearing be opened. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
The Village Clerk read Ordinance 3468 by title:
AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND CHAPTER 145 OF THE CODE OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD, FEES, AT SECTION 145-6, RELATED FEES, CHAPTER 125, TO INCREASE CERTAIN FEES FOR CONSTRUCTION CODES, UNIFORM
Mayor Aronsohn announced that the Public Hearing was open. There were no comments from the public, and Mayor Aronsohn moved that the Public Hearing be closed. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
Councilwoman Hauck moved that Ordinance 3468 be adopted on second reading and final publication as required by law. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Councilman Sedon asked for clarification that the reason for the changes being requested is to bring them in line with those charged in other municipalities. Ms. Sonenfeld confirmed this, adding that Mr. Yotka could give further clarification of the reasons behind it. Mr. Yotka stated that it was found when the analyses were done that Ridgewood charges more than other municipalities for some fees, and less for other fees. This is an attempt to balance that out, and to be consistent with municipalities in this region, as well as State-wide. Mr. Yotka acknowledged that there will be disparities, and each community faces various challenges in setting its fees, and the Ridgewood fee schedule has been aligned according to the challenges faced in Ridgewood. Councilman Sedon said he conducted his own comparison, and he found that revenues for the Building Department are $1,068,000, and expenditures are approximately $933,000, leaving an additional $134,000 in the Building Department coffers. Therefore, Councilman Sedon believes that if the Department’s costs are being covered, and the Village is still able to show some profit while simultaneously offering residents some relief when it comes to inspections, Councilman Sedon thinks that should be the policy. That is why he will be voting against this ordinance.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Pucciarelli, and Mayor Aronsohn
NAYS: Councilmembers Knudsen and Sedon
e. Public Hearing – #3469 – Amend Chapter 249 – Streets and Sidewalks – Required Deposit and Maintenance Period
Mayor Aronsohn moved the second reading of Ordinance 3469 and that the Public Hearing be opened. Councilman Sedon seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
The Village Clerk read Ordinance 3469 by title:
AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND CHAPTER 249 OF THE CODE OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD, STREETS AND SIDEWALKS, AT SECTION 249-49, “REQUIRED DEPOSIT,” AND SECTION 249-54, “MAINTENANCE PERIOD”
Mayor Aronsohn announced that the Public Hearing was open. There were no comments from the public, and Mayor Aronsohn moved that the Public Hearing be closed. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
Councilwoman Knudsen moved that Ordinance 3469 be adopted on second reading and final publication as required by law. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
f. Public Hearing – #3470 – Amend Chapter 3, Article VIII, Residency Requirements
Mayor Aronsohn moved the second reading of Ordinance 3470 and that the Public Hearing be opened. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
The Village Clerk read Ordinance 3470 by title:
AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND CHAPTER 3, ARTICLE VIII OF THE CODE OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD ENTITLED “RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS”
Mayor Aronsohn announced that the Public Hearing was open.
Ellie Gruber, 229 South Irving Street, recalled Councilwoman Knudsen’s words at the beginning of this discussion that she wants every layer peeled back, like an onion, until everyone is crying. Ms. Gruber wanted to clarify that expression, because it is a very well-known expression, and does not necessarily involve making everyone cry.
Ms. Gruber urged the Councilmembers to table this discussion, because as the Councilmembers have heard, Ridgewood residents are angry and confused. Moreover, Ms. Gruber does not believe there is any reason to rush this decision, because as was pointed out earlier, there are only two people waiting to be hired. There is so much confusion about this ordinance. Ms. Gruber downloaded the ordinance from the Internet, which was adopted in 1983, and amended in August 2014, and again in October 2014. Ms. Gruber was able to obtain the amended version. However, when Ms. Gruber saw what was printed in the newspaper, it seemed to her that a section of the ordinance was deleted, while at the same time adding language to the ordinance. The section labeled “Exceptions” was deleted, but Ms. Gruber thought that something was added in the middle of the ordinance. It seems to Ms. Gruber that, because there is so much confusion about this ordinance, as representatives of the Village, the Councilmembers owe it to the residents to take some more time before taking action. Ms. Gruber commented that this is not a “life shattering” issue, but it has been made to seem so because of the discussions that have taken place. In the interests of good governance, Ms. Gruber thinks the issue should be tabled, or dropped entirely and the ordinance re-drafted. Ms. Gruber stated that Ms. Mailander is the best Village Clerk in the State of New Jersey, who has explained everything as well as she can, but Ms. Gruber believes this is hard to understand, and that those Councilmembers who are not lawyers, as Councilman Pucciarelli is, probably do not understand it as well as they should. Ms. Gruber noted that the discussion tonight was very healthy, and she believes that another discussion about this ordinance would be most helpful. Ms. Gruber cannot find any reason why this must be adopted tonight. That is why she urged the Councilmembers to either table the discussion, or re-draft the ordinance altogether.
Lorraine Reynolds, 550 Wyndemere Avenue, agreed with everything Ms. Gruber stated. Ms. Reynolds added that when the Councilmembers vote on the issue, they should give great consideration to the people of Ridgewood, who they represent. Ms. Reynolds believes this is a simple matter, and that if there is a qualified Ridgewood resident available for any position, no matter where s/he may appear on the certification list, that person should be hired for the job. That person is living in Ridgewood, is either paying taxes or paying rent, and spends money in Village establishments, as well as using the Public Library and other municipal facilities. The Village should want to help its own residents whenever possible. Ms. Reynolds recalled a statement to the effect that when someone is hired, that person can move out of Ridgewood, but she has also heard that Ridgewood created the residency requirement, so the Village can change the requirement. Ms. Reynolds suggested language such as requiring that someone is required to reside in the Village for at least three years prior to getting the job, and s/he must agree to continue living in the Village for at least two years, as an example. She does not consider anyone who is transient to be a bona fide Ridgewood resident. Ms. Reynolds believes that a bona fide Ridgewood resident would take greater pride in the work, more than someone who commutes from another town. Finally, Ms. Reynolds reminded the Councilmembers again of the quotes regarding Ms. Sonenfeld when she was hired, and asked them to think about those things when they vote on the residency requirement.
John Saraceno, 17 Coventry Court, stated that whether everyone understands residency requirements does not matter, but what Councilwoman Knudsen did, and the progress that has been made since then, has educated everyone. Mr. Saraceno believes that the vote should be taken today if the Councilmembers feel that they are educated enough on the subject, and they should not vote if they do not believe that they are. Whether the residents understand the ordinance is irrelevant, because Mr. Saraceno believes that half of the residents do not understand the ordinances, anyway. That is why the Councilmembers are elected. In addition, there are many Village employees who do not live in the Village, and to say that they would care more about their jobs and their quality of work if they lived in the Village is irrelevant. Although they do not live in Ridgewood, they seem to care greatly about it, and they do a wonderful job for Ridgewood.
In addition, Mr. Saraceno stated that the consideration given to the fact that Ms. Sonenfeld is a Ridgewood resident when she was hired was just a consideration, not an obligation. He pointed out that there is a huge difference between those two things. The fact that Ms. Sonenfeld is a resident of Ridgewood was considered because it was thought that she would care about the Village as she carries out her duties. Mr. Saraceno noted that it was considered, but it was never thought that she needed to be hired because she resides in the Village.
Christina Krauss, 488 Overbrook Road, stated that she was shocked by what she saw on television when she watched the Village Council meeting last week. Ms. Krauss stated that she was dismayed at the amount of incivility that was directed to Councilwoman Knudsen merely for asking questions about an issue. Councilwoman Knudsen, as well as all of the Councilmembers, are elected specifically to ask questions, investigate things, and bring them to the public’s attention for everyone to give input. Ms. Krauss thanked Councilwoman Knudsen for doing just that, because it takes a lot of courage to be the one person on the opposite side of an issue.
Ms. Krauss asked if there are Councilmembers who have different standing than other Councilmembers, or is any Councilmember in a superior position to any other Councilmember. Mayor Aronsohn asked if it pertained to this ordinance, and Ms. Krauss answered that it does pertain to the ordinance regarding hiring. She pointed out that Ms. Hinsdale made a statement about a decision that was made to hold information requested in abeyance by a majority of the Councilmembers, and Ms. Krauss wondered who the majority of the Councilmembers were, and if those particular Councilmembers have any standing that is above other Councilmembers. Ms. Krauss referred to another statement made that there was no intentional delay in getting information to Councilwoman Knudsen, but when a statement is made that something is being held in abeyance at the request of the majority of the Councilmembers, those two statements seem to contradict each other.
Councilman Pucciarelli stated that this discussion has no bearing on this particular ordinance, although he acknowledged that it is probably very important to Ms. Krauss, but he does not see how it moves the discussion on this ordinance forward. Ms. Krauss stated that it pertains to the question initially asked by Councilwoman Knudsen in reference to the ordinance that is currently being discussed. Ms. Hinsdale explained that there was a Closed Session meeting held prior to the March 11, 2015, Village Council meeting, at which all of the Councilmembers were present. At that meeting, Ms. Hinsdale stated her concerns about the request made by Councilwoman Knudsen. When Ms. Hinsdale stated that a “majority” of the Councilmembers made a request, she only meant that it was more than three Councilmembers who asked to hold the information in abeyance. Ms. Hinsdale does not give any more weight to one Councilmember’s vote over another, but in this case, at least three Councilmembers, and perhaps four, agreed that the fallback ordinance should be determined first, and then determine what the information was, so that it could be provided to Councilwoman Knudsen and all of the other Councilmembers. The information was not meant to be provided solely to Councilwoman Knudsen.
Tom Landers, 413 Meadowbrook Avenue, noted that the original residency requirement, Ordinance #1898, has been in existence for 34 years. Mr. Landers is not aware of any other problems that have occurred with respect to this ordinance in the past 34 years, until recently. He asked what precipitated the request to change the ordinance, because there have been no problems with it, and the satisfaction level of residents with respect to Village employees has been high, so he wondered what necessitated the change.
Ms. Sonenfeld responded that it was born of a desire to make municipal government and operations more efficient and more effective, as well as better-run. One of the key issues in doing that is Human Resources. Mr. Landers pointed out that in the past 34 years, there have been nine Village Managers, and there has been no problem with the ordinance as it existed, but it seems that suddenly, there is a problem. Mayor Aronsohn asked Mr. Landers if the proposed change specifically affects him in any way, and Mr. Landers responded that it does not, but he wanted to know what specifically occurred to make a change necessary. Ms. Sonenfeld answered that there were a couple of factors involved, and the biggest one is that there are efforts to make Village operations more effective, more efficient, and better-run, and Village management is adopting a “re-engineering” program to make that happen. Any effort must start with people, because they are important resources. Ms. Sonenfeld believes that the Village should get the best and the brightest, and she pointed out that, in municipal government, once a person is hired, it is extremely difficult to “un-hire” that person, due to Civil Service regulations, as well as unions. Therefore, it is essential to try to make the initial hiring decision the correct decision. That is Ms. Sonenfeld’s motivation.
Councilman Sedon added that when this issue first came to the attention of the Councilmembers, they were told that the Village was not in compliance with the ordinance. Mr. Landers asked how the Village was not in compliance with the ordinance, and Councilman Sedon responded that he never got an answer to this question. Ms. Sonenfeld pointed out that the Village did a survey within Bergen County, as well as outside of Bergen County, and 33 municipalities responded to the effect that they did not have any residency preference. Five municipalities do have residency preferences, and one of those five municipalities is ending that practice. Mr. Landers pointed out that the original residency requirement ordinance, Ordinance #1898, applied to all classified Civil Service positions in Ridgewood. He asked if a Ridgewood resident was ever denied a position for a non-classified position, for which the resident might have been capable. Mr. Landers also asked if the ordinance is currently in effect, because the amended ordinance was declared invalid by the State. Ms. Sonenfeld noted that the Village has been in compliance with respect to non-competitive positions, because of the ruling which was issued with respect to those positions, as well as being in compliance with competitive positions, because the Village receives certification lists from Civil Service for those positions, which is followed. Mr. Landers stated that no lists exist for non-competitive titles.
Ms. Hinsdale interjected that initially, there was some confusion about whether the prior ordinance discussed classified positions, and whether that included both competitive and non-competitive positions. The Village was not technically applying the residency requirement to non-classified positions, but upon further review with Civil Service, and specifically Saul Abrams, Ms. Hinsdale was told specifically that in non-competitive positions, the Village has the right to hire the best-qualified person. That is why Ms. Hinsdale indicated earlier that for purposes of non-competitive positions, the Village can hire the best-qualified candidate. Mr. Landers stated that the information he was provided by Civil Service contradicts Ms. Hinsdale’s statement. Mr. Landers said he asked the Village Clerk if Ordinance #1898 applies to all classified Civil Service positions. Ms. Mailander told him that it only applies to open competitive positions, and historically, Ridgewood has hired according to its residency requirement only with respect to open competitive positions. Mr. Landers was told by the Village Clerk and the Director of Operations that the Village can hire anyone it chooses for non-competitive positions. Ms. Mailander asked Mr. Landers when he had that discussion with her, because she believes it was prior to the discussion she and Ms. Hinsdale had with Saul Abrams in which Mr. Abrams clarified the Civil Service requirements. Mr. Landers said that was correct. Ms. Mailander said if that was the case, it would have been the Village’s assumption at that time. She reminded Mr. Landers of what Ms. Hinsdale just said about there being a lot of confusion that was cleared up by Mr. Abrams at Civil Service. Mr. Landers noted that Ms. Hinsdale is paid by the Village, and was not at the meeting for his benefit. Ms. Hinsdale interjected that she is paid by the Village to be the Labor Attorney, and she gives legal opinions based on her professional legal determinations. Ms. Hinsdale does not give opinions requested by anyone in particular, nor does she give opinions based on what any particular person might want to hear. Her opinions are based on her 25 years of experience in the public sector, and for anyone to say that she might be giving an opinion for a specific purpose is offensive and is inaccurate. Furthermore, Ms. Hinsdale stated with 100% certainty that Saul Abrams from Civil Service told her unequivocally that the Village has not violated Civil Service rules and regulations in hiring either competitive or non-competitive positions within the Village.
Mayor Aronsohn stated that there are a lot of issues being discussed, and he pointed out that there is the past, and there is the future. This ordinance is about the future, and what the Councilmembers want to do together, and what policy they want to establish. If there are questions about the past, they should be investigated, and they will be. However, going forward, the focus of this discussion is the future and establishing the policy going forward. Mr. Landers said he is only asking questions, and he wanted to state for the record that historically, the Village has not applied any residency requirements to non-competitive titles.
Councilman Pucciarelli asked Mr. Landers if he supported residency requirements, or if he supports eliminating them, because Mr. Landers has been suggesting that residency requirements are confusing, and that the Village has not necessarily been in compliance with its own law. Councilman Pucciarelli asked Mr. Landers why he would want to perpetuate that. Mr. Landers responded that he does not believe the application of the Statute is confusing. He pointed out that the original ordinance stated that the residency requirement was applicable to all classified Civil Service positions, and that classified Civil Service positions include competitive and non-competitive titles. However, the Village historically only applied the residency requirement to competitive titles, which was a problem. Ms. Mailander pointed out that the Councilmembers acknowledged that. Mr. Landers continued by saying that according to the Human Resources manual in effect at the time, no full-time position should be filled without being advertised in the newspaper; posted on the website; and posted on the Civil Service website, yet the Village did not meet any of those conditions. Mr. Landers pointed out that such practices lay the groundwork for preferential hiring, in which the Village could hire anyone without advertising. Therefore, if a Village resident wanted a position in Village government, Mr. Landers wondered how the resident would find out about any available positions, if the jobs are not posted on any website or otherwise advertised. It seems that most positions are advertised on internal websites, which is why in the Sanitation, Water Treatment, and Recycling departments, most of the positions are filled by friends and family of current employees and management.
Mayor Aronsohn said that Mr. Landers was not giving anyone a chance to respond, and he was raising issues about past practices, rather than discussing the ordinance that is the focus tonight. The concerns and issues raised by Mr. Landers can be addressed, but the focus has to be on the current ordinance.
Mr. Landers asked Ms. Hinsdale to explain why the ordinance currently in effect was not applied to non-competitive positions, and why the Village failed to advertise the positions on the website, in the newspaper, or through internal postings on a central bulletin board. That is why many Village residents do not know that these positions exist, and Mr. Landers considers that to be preferential hiring. Ms. Hinsdale explained that the ordinance that was in effect since 1983 discussed residency requirements that were applicable to classified positions. Classified positions include competitive and non-competitive titles. There was confusion about the fact that the Village, for a number of years, was not technically applying the residency requirement to non-competitive positions. However, when Ms. Hinsdale discussed the matter with Civil Service representatives after the issue was discovered, Civil Service opined that, if the Village was hiring the most-qualified person, it was not deemed to be in violation of the residency requirement, because in non-competitive positions, there was no requirement for certification list, nor was there any requirement to follow the “Rule of Three”. Civil Service has now clarified that, despite some confusion with the ordinance in effect from 1983 forward, Civil Service does not see any violation. As far as posting positions is concerned, Ms. Hinsdale said she has not been asked about that, and she has no idea that any problem exists with that.
Mayor Aronsohn stated that with respect to looking at past issues, it can be done. However, the focus is on the amended ordinance that is being discussed tonight, and whether this is good policy. Mr. Landers responded that the misapplication of the original residency requirement ordinance, coupled with the fact that the Village was in violation of its own policies and procedures by failing to advertise the jobs as they were mandated to do by the policy, led to a situation in which preferential hiring exists in the Village. Mayor Aronsohn stated that Mr. Landers is referring to events in the past.
Moving on, Mr. Landers noted that the Village presently has three positions advertised in the newspaper, which are for the Superintendent of the Water Pollution Control Facility; Technical Assistant to the Construction Code Official; and one other position. All three of these jobs are considered open competitive positions, and Mr. Landers wanted to know why they are not posted on the Civil Service eligibility list. Ms. Mailander responded that they are listed on the Civil Service website. Mr. Landers pointed out that he has visited the Civil Service website several times, and has not seen the jobs listed. Ms. Mailander asked to which specific job he was referring. Mr. Landers responded that he is aware that the Village is looking for a Superintendent for the Water Pollution Control Facility, which Ms. Mailander noted has not yet been announced. Mr. Landers stated that it is on the Village website, and Ms. Mailander explained that what will most likely happen is that there will be a provisional hired, who will serve in that position. Civil Service will eventually announce the opening, and they will list it on their website. Anyone who is qualified can apply for that position once it is made public on the Civil Service website.
Mr. Landers asked what would happen if the person who was hired provisionally is not one of the top three names on the eligibility list. Ms. Mailander responded that if there is no other opening which that person could fill, s/he would have to leave the employment of the Village, which has occurred in the past. She explained that the other way the Village can hire is to allow Civil Service to announce the opening of the position; Civil Service will take all of the applications; an eligibility list will be generated; once the list is received in the Village, because there is no question about the certification of the names on the list, appointments can be made from that list. Allowing Civil Service to handle the hiring process takes approximately 4-6 months, whereas hiring or appointing a provisional usually does not take that long. Ms. Sonenfeld noted that both situations have occurred in the Village. In the case of an employee in the Department of Public Works, a provisional hire was made, and after approximately a year, the person hired took the examination, and s/he did not score as high as other people. As a result, s/he had to be removed from that position. That manager opted to allow Civil Service to take care of the process. On other occasions, such as in the Building Department, the Plumbing Inspector was hired provisionally.
Mayor Aronsohn stated that this discussion could be put on a future agenda, but the discussion about adopting this ordinance must move forward. Mr. Landers stated that he believes that the new policy, coupled with the fact that the Village does not follow the existing requirements and the nepotism policy, would increase the risk of preferential hiring that already exists in the Village. That is why Mr. Landers would like to have the discussion tabled, and he believes that if there are two qualified candidates, the Village residents should get the job.
Councilwoman Knudsen asked Ms. Sonenfeld how many of the towns surveyed are Civil Service, and how many of the towns are not Civil Service. Ms. Sonenfeld responded that 10 of the towns are Civil Service, including Elmwood Park, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Garfield, Moonachie, Oakland, Park Ridge, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, and Waldwick. Councilwoman Knudsen asked of the 10 Civil Service towns, how many dropped their residency requirements. Ms. Sonenfeld stated that they probably never had such a requirement, or dropped it a long time ago.
There were no other comments from the public, and Mayor Aronsohn moved that the Public Hearing be closed. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Knudsen, Pucciarelli, Sedon, and Mayor Aronsohn
Mayor Aronsohn noted that this has been a long discussion over several nights, and he thinks it has been a healthy conversation, although it was not always friendly. A lot of questions have been raised about the past, and Mayor Aronsohn believes they should be clarified. However, this ordinance is about the future, and about what policy this Village Council wishes to have followed moving forward. Last August, it was adopted unanimously, because the Councilmembers felt that they would rather not have a residency requirement. Currently, there seems to be a majority that wants to move forward with the new amendment to the ordinance to open all Civil Service positions to the State of New Jersey. Ms. Gruber pointed out that people are angry about this, and Mayor Aronsohn agreed with her, saying that he has heard many people who are angry that the Village Manager does not have all the tools that she needs to make good hiring decisions. Some people think this is a “no-brainer,” and that the most qualified person should always be hired. Other people have talked about the responsibility the Councilmembers owe to Ridgewood residents, and Mayor Aronsohn pointed out that they have a fiduciary responsibility to the residents, which they all take very seriously. However, Mayor Aronsohn does not believe that responsibility means that the Village must give Ridgewood residents jobs, but to run the most efficient and most effective government possible. To do that, it is essential to hire the most qualified people. It is hoped that the most qualified person is a Ridgewood resident, but it may not be. That is a tool that the Village Manager needs to have.
Mayor Aronsohn also addressed Ms. Reynolds’s reminder about the comments made by the Councilmembers when Ms. Sonenfeld was hired. He agreed that he thought then, as he does now, that it is a wonderful thing that she lives in Ridgewood, because she has a good understanding of what Ridgewood residents face. However, Mayor Aronsohn pointed out that her residency was not the number one requirement at all. He was so impressed with her vast experience in management in the private sector, and that was his focus. Mayor Aronsohn noted that the net was cast wide in the search for a Village Manager, and he pointed out that the net should always be cast wide for competitive positions to try to get the most qualified people for the jobs. That is what the Councilmembers owe the Village residents.
As far as tabling the discussion is concerned, Mayor Aronsohn pointed out that the Councilmembers have thought about this issue, and it is clear to them that they want to give the Village Manager the tools necessary to hire the most qualified people. While Mayor Aronsohn appreciates the calls to table the discussion, he suggested that the Councilmembers need to move forward with adopting this ordinance tonight.
Councilwoman Knudsen said she could not agree more that the Councilmembers need to do what is in the best interests of the Village, but she has a different perspective. There are highly-qualified residents in Ridgewood who can fill these jobs. One of the issues brought up was whether the Village made good-faith efforts to advertise and get a pool of candidates from Ridgewood. Councilwoman Knudsen mentioned an email that was received regarding a job opportunity that was only circulated among Village staff, which piqued her interest that a job opportunity would only be advertised to Village staff. Councilwoman Knudsen wondered why the job was not advertised in the newspaper, on the Village website, sent out in an e-notice, or communicated to residents in some other way. The manner in which the email was distributed ensured that the only people who would be applying for the job would be friends or relatives of current Village employees. Councilwoman Knudsen believes that a good-faith effort to advertise positions will generate a pool of very highly qualified applicants from within Ridgewood. Councilwoman Knudsen does not believe that anyone has proven that to be untrue. She added that Ridgewood is a large, diverse community, with a population that would welcome the opportunity to be employed by the Village if they knew that the jobs were available.
Ms. Mailander commented that when such notifications are made by internal emails, it is an invitation for current Village employees to apply for that job. It is done to see if there are people within the Village’s current employ who might be qualified and wish to apply for a particular position. If it is not filled from within, a public announcement is made about the position. Sometimes, that is a better way to handle it, because there are not always opportunities for public employees to move up the employment ladder, and it allows current employees to get promotions by assuming a new position in another department, or another area of the Village. If a friend or family member of a current Village employee were to apply for that position, that person would not be considered, because the job is still being considered as one for internal placement. If it is an external posting, the email goes to all departments, as well as being advertised. Councilwoman Knudsen noted that there is a current job opening, and an internal email was sent to advertise it. However, she does not believe it has to be filled from within. Ms. Mailander confirmed this, and noted that it allows current Village staff to move up or change jobs, if they desire. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that she was only trying to make the point that the job opportunity was not being given to the public if the email was only being sent internally. Ms. Sonenfeld pointed out that this is similar to what is done in the corporate world, where career paths are created. It gives employees the opportunity to go to the next rung, but it is essential to ensure that they are qualified for that rung. In the past, the Village had a practice in which some people were promoted from non-supervisory positions to supervisory positions without giving them the appropriate tools and training to do that, which created some problems. Due to the fact that the new Human Resources person was hired, Ms. Sonenfeld is confident that the Village can work through that. Ms. Sonenfeld is not sure that this is germane to the current ordinance. Councilwoman Knudsen stated that it is germane because of the reason that she does not support the ordinance, which is because she is not sure that the Village has made a good-faith effort as far as the residency requirement is concerned.
Councilman Pucciarelli believes that it is good to advertise to Ridgewood residents and get a bigger pool of candidates, which will hopefully lead to finding the most qualified candidate, or maybe that will not happen. Councilman Pucciarelli believes it is essential to find the most qualified candidate. In his legal career, he has hired many people, and always cast a very wide net, and the Village should do no less. Good government is served by having people who are capable and fully able to do their jobs. None of this is about patronage or nepotism, and Ridgewood is not the point where they must create a jobs/works program, as was done during the Great Depression. The best test of choosing an employee, irrespective of where that person lives, is to find the most qualified person. Councilman Pucciarelli also noted that, amidst all of the allegations made during these discussions, nothing pointed to Councilman Pucciarelli being for or against the residency requirements. In fact, he believes all of the information points to him being against it, because of all the confusion over how the policy is applied. For Councilman Pucciarelli, the policy going forward is the real issue. He does not believe that how long a person’s commute is has any relevance to the issue, or to how well that person will do his/her job. In addition, Councilman Pucciarelli noted that the ordinance delineates a very narrow band of time for residency. The candidate must be a Ridgewood resident when s/he applies, as well as being a resident when s/he starts his/her job. That leads to gamesmanship, and Councilman Pucciarelli noted that many people hired by the Village cannot afford to live here. Councilman Pucciarelli also pointed out one of the aspects of residency requirements that everyone seems to have ignored. He asked what happens it becomes necessary to fire the neighbor’s daughter, or someone else to whom you are or were very close. For Councilman Pucciarelli, this is a very clear decision. The Village Manager, who has done an excellent job so far, has asked for this, and even if she had not, Councilman Pucciarelli would be arguing forcibly that the people of Ridgewood are best-served when the most qualified candidate is hired for every job. If that person happens to be a Ridgewood resident, so much the better.
Councilwoman Hauck stated that she could not be more eloquent than Councilman Pucciarelli, and she agrees with everything he said. She agrees with the necessity to cast the net as wide as possible, and thinks it would hobble the Village bureaucratically if residency requirements are enforced. Councilwoman Hauck does not see the need to table this discussion, because it must move forward.
Councilman Sedon thinks there has been a lot of confusion surrounding this ordinance, and answers have been very difficult to find. He believes that if someone is qualified, and happens to live in Ridgewood, that person should be hired. Councilman Sedon believes that getting rid of the residency requirement does a disservice to the Village, and he will not support the new policy.
Councilwoman Hauck moved that Ordinance 3470 be adopted on second reading and final publication as required by law. Councilman Pucciarelli seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote
AYES: Councilmembers Hauck, Pucciarelli, and Mayor Aronsohn
NAYS: Councilmembers Knudsen and Sedon
THE FOLLOWING RESOLUTIONS, NUMBERED 15-98 THROUGH 15-117, WERE ADOPTED BY A CONSENT AGENDA, WITH ONE VOTE BY THE VILLAGE COUNCIL, AND WERE READ BY TITLE ONLY:
10. COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC
Mayor Aronsohn stated that they would again have comments from the public and asked anyone wishing to address the Village Council to come forward.
Bernadette Walsh, 444 Red Birch Court, asked if either Mr. Rogers or Ms. Hinsdale could explain how a discussion of workplace policies adheres to the criteria for Closed Session. Ms. Hinsdale responded that the Closed Session item is described as “Personnel – Discussion of Workplace Policies,” and it was her understanding that there was a complaint made about a violation of a workplace policy, and in order to prevent naming either the person who filed the complaint or the subject of the complaint, which Ms. Hinsdale did not feel would be appropriate, she advised the Councilmembers to put it on the Closed Session agenda, and there is sufficient notice of the personnel discussion so that it can be included in Closed Session.
Ms. Walsh asked if there is a workplace policy in the Village, and is it on-line. Ms. Sonenfeld responded that there is a human resources manual, but she is not sure if it is available on-line. Mr. Rogers stated that it is. Ms. Walsh asked if every Councilmember has a copy of the workplace policy. Ms. Mailander explained that they do, and it is an internal document that is given to the Village Council every two years to approve the update of it. Ms. Sonenfeld noted that it was updated last year, with the assistance of Ms. Hinsdale, and every page of the guide was reviewed with all of the management team to look at issues and identify areas that might need improvement. Councilwoman Knudsen noted for the record that she has not received one, and she was told when she was sworn in the reason she did not receive one is because it was in the process of being reviewed and edited. Councilman Sedon stated that he also had not received a copy. Ms. Mailander said they would have them by Friday.
Finally, Ms. Walsh asked who would be in attendance at the Closed Session meeting this evening. Mayor Aronsohn indicated that it would be the Councilmembers and the attorneys.
Marcia Ringel, 250 Ferris Place, asked for clarification that it is within the Village Council’s purview to decide the hours and fees at Graydon Pool. Mayor Aronsohn answered that the Councilmembers set the policy, working with the Village Manager. This has been done in the past for both fees and hours of operation. Ms. Sonenfeld pointed out that she does not sit on the Graydon Pool Committee, but Tim Cronin, Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Nancy Bigos, Assistant Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, discuss those things. Ms. Ringel acknowledged that their input would be very important, but it seemed that it was always the Village Council’s decision regarding hours of operation and fees. Mayor Aronsohn stated that the Councilmembers always made the decisions, based on input from Mr. Cronin and Ms. Bigos. Ms. Ringel stated that such decisions always seem to be made behind closed doors. Mayor Aronsohn responded that they do not happen behind closed doors. He noted that in the current situation, Mr. Cronin and Ms. Bigos indicated that there might be a problem, which was discussed at the Village Council meeting last week. Ms. Sonenfeld recalled that the Village Council decided that every effort would be made to have the pool open that week, and Mr. Cronin and Ms. Bigos tried to find people who could staff the pool. However, there is no professional staff available, and the pool cannot be opened without professional staff. Most of the lifeguards are either back in high school or college. Moreover, the staffing requirement at Graydon Pool is not necessarily the same as other types of pools. Ms. Ringel acknowledged the truth of that, but she also pointed out that entire facility is not open most of the time, and it is possible to open part of it. She also suggested that opening the four-foot section of the pool would satisfy most people. Ms. Ringel asked Ms. Sonenfeld if she would explore the possibility of not having the 19 delayed opening days, and Ms. Sonenfeld said she would get more information about that.
Councilwoman Knudsen asked if that is a vote that the Village Council is currently undertaking, and Councilman Pucciarelli pointed out that they voted on it at the previous meeting. Councilwoman Knudsen noted that if the hours are changed in any way, that is something that the Village Council would have to be approved, which Mayor Aronsohn confirmed, saying that it is a policy decision. Ms. Ringel reminded the Councilmembers that is something that was done in the past, and to do so now would be a tremendous reduction of hours. Mayor Aronsohn reiterated that Ms. Sonenfeld will look into it, and make recommendations to the Village Council for a vote to be taken.
Finally, Ms. Ringel said it is wonderful when the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts want to take on projects involving planting trees and other flora, as well as cleaning up many of the public spaces in Ridgewood. However, sometimes with all of the plaques, benches, and other paraphernalia that gets installed, the look becomes too manicured. Ms. Ringel reminded the Councilmembers that there is a Ridgewood Wildscape Committee, and she suggested that whenever a Girl Scout or Boy Scout proposes a project, perhaps the Wildscape Committee could be consulted, and more information could be given regarding how much of the Wildscape will be removed, as well as other information about what is to be installed at the proposed site. Ms. Ringel suggested that such criteria could be part of a policy, not associated with any particular project, so that when someone proposes this type of project, a decision could be made based on the criteria.
Ellie Gruber, 229 South Irving Street, asked if two Councilmembers do not have the policy manual, and therefore do not know what the subject is, and there is a discussion scheduled for the Closed Session meeting, how can they participate in the discussion. Mayor Aronsohn responded that the issue to be discussed is that there was an altercation last week in which Mayor Aronsohn thought that the Village Manager was treated inappropriately and aggressively, which needs to be discussed among the Councilmembers. It is also necessary to ensure that everyone is up-to-date on the policy, and if they are not, that is another discussion that needs to be held. Ms. Gruber asked if the minutes would be made public as soon as possible, and Mayor Aronsohn noted that Ms. Mailander takes the minutes of the Closed Session meetings, and will be posting them as soon as she can. Ms. Mailander added that they must be approved by the Village Council before they can be posted, and the matter being discussed must come to a conclusion before that can happen.
There were no more comments from the public, and Mayor Aronsohn closed the time for public comment.
11. RESOLUTION TO GO INTO CLOSED SESSION
The following resolution, numbered 15-118, to go into Closed Session, was read in full by the Village Clerk, as follows:
There being no further business to come before the Village Council, on a motion by Councilwoman Knudsen, seconded by Councilman Sedon, and carried unanimously by voice vote, the meeting was adjourned at 12:15 A.M., April 9, 2015.
Paul S. Aronsohn
Heather A. Mailander
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