HILLSIDE, NJ — Although Hillside residents have been asking for several weeks just where the township holiday decorations have been and when they would be put up, it wasn’t the large and festive Christmas wreaths that caught their attention last Saturday. It was the DPW cherry-picker truck that caught people’s eye — or rather, the large strips of blue tape very obviously covering the logos on the truck.
Word of the incident immediately spread throughout the township, and residents took to social media to find out exactly what was going on. “So driving on Liberty today, I see these men working from an unknown company putting up Christmas decoration,” posted one Hillside resident. “My issue is why the truck logos are taped up in blue and why Hillside DPW not doing the work. What’s going on in Hillside that we don’t even have our DPW doing work? Why do we pay taxes for?”
Several people posited that the truck was from neighboring Orange and that the mayor had contracted the work out.
At the Dec. 6 meeting of the Hillside town council, several council members asked Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson about the incident. By that time, it seemed that some members of the council had found out that the truck was, indeed, from Orange.
Dwayne Warren, who served as Hillside acting business administrator and is now Hillside’s UEZ coordinator of economic development, is currently the mayor of Orange.
Hillside councilwoman Diane Murray-Clements told Garretson that there was some concern that the township was using Orange’s equipment to put up the township’s Christmas decorations. “Who’s going to pay for that?’ Murray-Clements asked of Garretson. “Was that contracted out to them?”
Garretson told the council, however, that it was a shared service. “Actually, it was more of a shared service,” Garretson told the council, stating that Hillside’s other DPW truck was no longer is service. “We want to be able to work with our neighboring municipality.”
According to Garretson, Hillside will not have to foot the bill. “It was not something that costs the taxpayers,” Garretson said. “We used our own employees. None of the Orange DPW workers were utilized.”
But Murray-Clements jumped right in. “Did they drive the truck from Orange to town?” asked the councilwoman, alluding to the fact that had an Orange DPW worker driven the truck to Hillside, then the township was indeed employing an employee of Orange.
But Garretson said she could not be sure where the truck had been driven from.
Murray-Clements offered a reason for her query. “The reason I’m asking you is because I want to make sure we’re not getting an invoice next week or that we’re paying their employees on a line item or overtime or anything,” she said. “I want to make sure that Orange residents aren’t pissed because we’re using their employees.”
But Garretson said that workers from Orange were not involved. “Orange did not do any of the work,” said the mayor.
Hillside council vice president Andrea Hyatt asked Garretson if the township could have gone through the county to address the situation instead of getting a truck from Orange, but Garretson said that the township simply had not gone that route.
While Murray-Clements said she had no issue with shared services, she did reiterate that the township needed no surprises. “I just want things to be by the books and not be surprised by invoices or be the headline across the newspaper because we’re doing something illegal,” said Murray-Clements.
And that’s when the councilwoman addressed the issue of the taped-up DPW truck. “It seems very suspect that they come into town to do the work and they put tape over the name so you don’t know they’re coming from somewhere else.”
Hillside council president Donald DeAugustine then asked the mayor about her claims of there being a shared service with Orange. “If the township enters into a shared service agreement, isn’t it something that needs to be approved by the governing body?” he asked of Garretson.
Hillside Township attorney Farrah Irving responded to the question. “Normally, there should be a contract, yes,” Irving told DeAugustine.
DeAugustine asked Irving if a shared services contract between the township and Orange had been done. “I have not done one,” Irving said.
Murray-Clements pointed out that the situation could not be deemed an emergency service, and therefore the mayor had not had to bypass the council. “So what was your reasoning, Mayor?” Murray-Clements asked Garretson. “Since you’re here you can answer the question.”
But according to Garretson, she did not have the details and said she would have to follow up with the DPW and refer to the paperwork.
But DeAugustine accused the mayor of passing the buck. “You’re deferring to the department when you’re the head,” DeAugustine said.
Garretson responded. “No, I’m the mayor, but I don’t run that department,” she told DeAugustine.
A back and forth ensued, with Garretson stating that she would get Irving to explain the roles of the mayor and the department heads.
Arthur Kobitz, a Hillside native and president of the township’s Board of Health, reiterated the problem at the meeting. “Shared services must go through the council,” Kobitz said, stating that the mayor was in violation.
According to Irving, a shared service agreement would have to be approved not only by the Hillside council, but the Orange council as well.
Orange is run by the Faulkner Act of government, the same form of government that Hillside uses.