SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ — The Aug. 30 meeting of the Scotch Plains Town Council was business as usual — until Councilman Llewellyn Jones dropped a bombshell.
According to the lone Republican on the council, during a mid-year budget review he came across a salary increase awarded to Al Mirabella, the town manager, by Scotch Plains Mayor Kevin Glover that was not disclosed to the rest of the council.
At the meeting, Jones asked Glover if he had authorized the pay raise, and Glover responded that he had.
“What legal justification do you think you have to do that unilaterally without informing the council?” Jones asked Glover.
Glover responded. “I don’t recall when that occurred quite frankly. It was earlier in the year and I know I was in consultation with some of the members of the council.”
Glover also stated that he was following a precedent, established well before his time, regarding how town managers in the past were awarded raises.
“Where did you learn of that precedent?” Jones asked.
Glover said that he had learned of the precedent as a member of the council.
But Jones responded that, since Mirabella was the first town manager to be given a raise during Glover’s tenure as mayor, former mayors must have told Glover about the precedent.
“It was not an official act of the governing body,” Glover told Jones. “I was made aware of it after the fact.”
Jones shot back at Glover. “So you consulted some of the members of the council, but not all of the members of the council?”
Bob Renaud, township attorney, was absent from the meeting, but Jones announced that he would be “interested to hear from the attorneys” as to whether the law allows the mayor to raise the salary of the town manager without consulting with the council.
Jones did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
According to a resolution awarding a contract to Mirabella dated January 1, 2015, the town manager earns an annual salary of $145,000.
Mirabella also serves currently as a Union County freeholder.
Glover, however, maintains that there has been no impropriety on his part, and that the ruckus surrounding Jones’ revelation is much ado about nothing.
“Last January, I met with the town’s long-serving chief financial officer to ask how raises for the township manager were handled in the past because I wanted to ensure the appropriate process was followed,” Glover told LocalSource in an email. “As the chief financial officer who served under the last four mayors, she informed me that the process has been that the mayor awards raises to the township manager. Al Mirabella was given a raise because he has done an excellent job of turning our government around and making it more efficient and more responsive to the people of Scotch Plains. He has played a key role in helping to stabilize our municipal taxes, including two consecutive municipal budgets with no tax increases, while realizing an improvement of our bond rating.”
Mirabella did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment by press time. Scotch Plains CFO Lori Majeski was also unavailable as of press time, and Scotch Plains council members Colleen Gialanella and John Del Sordi Jr. did not respond to requests for comment.
Glover said he suspects that the timing of Jones’ revelation is purely political.
“This raise took place nine months ago, was purely based on merit, and was undertaken in a manner that was entirely appropriate,” said Glover. “Obviously, it’s an election year and my opponents will try anything to cloud the very real accomplishments I itemize above. I am proud of the work we’re getting done on behalf of Scotch Plains.”
Scotch Plains Deputy Mayor Rose Checchio told LocalSource that she knew about Mirabella’s salary increase and that she, too, believes that Jones is acting out some kind of political play.
“As Deputy Mayor, the mayor advised me that he had approved a raise to the town manager,” Checchio said in an email. “I also believe this is purely political because this has been the practice in the past. The mayor was informing me as deputy mayor that he had approved the raise. I am unaware if he discussed this with anyone else. As far as being political, knowing that this took place earlier in the year, I have no doubt this is being raised for political purposes during an election year, as this information was readily available.”
But former Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks told LocalSource during a phone call that Scotch Plains operates under the Faulkner Act, and that Glover acted illegally.
“In that form of government, it’s illegal,” said Marks, who served as mayor for nine years. “There are five members of council, one of whom is the mayor, and they act together.”
Marks also said he does not believe Majeski approved the increase. “She either didn’t say it, or the mayor misrepresented what she had to say,” Marks alleged, adding that he doubts Glover’s conversation with the town’s CFO occurred.
“Either that conversation never happened with the CFO, or he misunderstood. Whether Mirabella deserved a raise is almost irrelevant compared to what’s going on here. This is some serious breaches of public trust here.”
Marks asserted that Glover’s statement that he consulted with some of the members of council, but not all, is problematic, calling such an action “inappropriate.”
According to Marks, town managers have always been given raises in Scotch Plains in just one way. “The manager would leave the room, and five council members would discuss and vote on whether to award a raise,” said Marks.
The former mayor also questioned whether Mirabella should hold simultaneously hold the positions of town manager and county freeholder, calling it a “conflict.”
“It certainly is inappropriate in my opinion. It might work for Scotch Plains, but if I were a different municipality in Union County, I might wonder about that. It would certainly cause some raised eyebrows.”