Fairfield Township Committee Meeting (June 16, 2015)
Mayor Byrd expeditiously terminated the meeting before there could be committee reports or comments, further discussion or questions. A commentary is offered here:
It was announced by the solicitor, coming out of executive session, that there was some discussion about a potential technology/data system breach that is pending investigation. This is an alarming discovery that must be rectified immediately due to the confidential nature of all sorts of public and privileged documents.
Also handled in public session was the Rice Hearing for the clerk. Oddly enough the timely passage of Ordinance No. 8-2015 has provided provisions for ANY elected official or APPOINTED official to be covered under the ordinance which provides legal counsel. Although the amendment to that Ordinance No. 9-2015 has only had its first reading this evening, the changes do not disqualify the clerk from being protected under the ordinance. In other words, her legal fees are the responsibility of the Township.
This time the public questioned the urgency for another ordinance. The first reading of Ordinance No. 9-2015 was explained by the solicitor to be necessary because Ordinance No. 8-2015 (which provided legal counsel for any elected or appointment official to be provided by the Township) was presented, voted on, passed by a 3-2 vote, and was written and presented incorrectly! There was a typographical error that was in fact questioned (by Committeeman Morton) during debate and determined to be a non-issue by the solicitor and the three committeemen that favored the ordinance. Now the public via the Township Committee is exposed to legal fees and the liability as a result of a committee that has already made a risky judgment. The committee is now scrambling to correct this error. The solicitor consented this evening that the erroneous ordinance is in fact in effect; although he affirmed that steps are being taken to correct the oversight.
Ordinance No. 8-2015 should not have been passed. It should be rescinded. Poor counsel and devious intent may be driving passage of similar misdoings.
Mining ordinance (Ordinance No. 6-2015): There was a mining ordinance passed but there is some concern in the community that the ordinance has been challenged by another governing authority. The challenge resulted from a declared conflict-of-interest by the committeemen who voted in favor of the ordinance (Committeeman Pitts, Committeeman Clark, and Mayor Byrd). Although the conflict was declared, the committee passed the ordinance regardless. What is the outcome of that error? Will that ordinance be revisited?
Bill list: It’s difficult to approve a bill list with no time to review it. But it was approved nonetheless. Legal fees were disclosed this month only after there was concern that the fees were greater than usual in the past month due to personnel issues (the release of volunteers and an Office of Emergency Management Coordinator) that were initiated without the committees consent. As an aside, aren’t these appointed officials also entitled to township sponsored legal counsel and fees?
Approval of the minutes: The committee was asked to approve the minutes from May, but receiving them this evening, there was very little time to verify the accuracy. If not for the reliability of the clerk’s minutes, I would be concerned. However, a brief review indicated that there was very lengthy and descriptive discussion about proposed ordinances. The Mayor and the members of the committee engaged in appropriate discussion that clearly highlighted the dangers of taking certain actions. But the motions were made to approve despite those discussions that clearly exposed the committee and the public to liability. Debate is important. But more important is the value that debate has to the outcome.
Former Mayor Viola Thomas-Hughes inquired this evening for a second time about the line items in the budget that defined and warranted the recent tax increase. For a second time, the Mayor indicated that he had the information but he “forgot” to bring it with him. His appropriate response could have been that one of the committeemen discussed three of those line items at the last meeting, but the Mayor may have forgotten that as well.
There were rumors circulating that there might be a pending resignation by a member of the committee. There has been neither a confirmation nor denial of any such resignation.
As a result of the actions taken by the Mayor and his three-fifths, the meeting was adjourned. This left no remedies for pressing issues and no direction for the new Administrator or current Clerk on how to resolve pending controversies. In his finality, Mayor Byrd motioned to have these matters referred to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in Trenton. Surely, a governmental review of the impartiality, racial bias, and political corruption in Fairfield Township will shine a spotlight on the entire organization.