HILLSIDE, NJ — At last week’s township meeting, the mayor’s choice for a temporary CFO was met with harsh criticism by members of the council, and a majority of the council supported not paying the bills that were presented, with the chair of the finance committee citing many faults with the bill list.
Hillside has been without a permanent CFO since Oct. 1 when the contract with an outside firm that previously handled the duties expired. That firm has recently been criticized for causing a $12,686 late fee when they paid the county taxes nearly two months late.
But some council members may be wishing for the devil they knew instead of the one they don’t.
LocalSource was unable to learn the name of the temporary CFO, with some council members reluctant to share it, because they say the blame lies elsewhere.
“She’s never been a supervisor,” said Council President Salonia Saxton. “She’s a data entry clerk. She’s a secretary that has never been in management. She is just doing what Angela wants. She is new. She is trying to hold on to her job. This mayor is very demanding.”
Mayor Angela Garretson could not be reached for comment by press time.
“We had to vote to not pay the bills,” Saxton continued. “Because the mayor decided she wanted to make the data entry clerk the CFO. And there is no way in the world we can make the data entry clerk the CFO.”
To be accurate, the temporary CFO was a payroll clerk who started working in the finance department in September.
According to multiple council members, the council normally received a preliminary bill list up to two weeks before the next meeting, but they didn’t receive it until the day before the meeting, and immediately members of the council took issue.
“On the bill list there were duplicates,” said Saxton. “Normally we get a preliminary bill list two weeks before, and we didn’t. And the bill list was all wrong. There is no way we could have paid the bills. People were on there being paid two or three times. It seemed like the mayor put this list together just to say, here’s something.
“We have a long road ahead of us,” Saxton continued. “I’ve never seen anything so dysfunctional in my life. If she is trying to make things better, why has she not interviewed anyone for CFO? I don’t know what she’s doing up there. This is the million dollar question. Everything is a secret in Hillside with this mayor.”
Councilwoman Diane Murray is the chair of the Finance Committee, and she was asked about the particulars of the bill list in an interview last week.
According to Murray, there were questions that had been raised about several bills on the list, “specifically about duplicate bills that should have been paid previously,” she said, “and charges to a mysterious person that charged the town.”
Murray said the finance committee repeatedly asked the mayor to tell them who is working in the finance office, but received no answer
“I requested the bill list two weeks ago,” Murray said last week just days after the council meeting. “The bill list was now four weeks late. Can you get me a copy? Can you let me know who prepared it? These are questions I’ve been asking. We usually meet with the CFO in advance.”
The meetings in advance with the CFO are so that any questions can be raised earlier rather than debating them at length during council meetings. And according to Murray, the response from the mayor was “Can you just send me the questions?”
“And then we learn at the council meeting that she promoted the payroll clerk, who is basically a data entry clerk, to the CFO position,” Murray said. “The council asked her questions and learned she is used to taking directions from a CFO, not the other way around.”
Murray said when the mayor was asked why the bill list was coming so late, the mayor blamed the previous CFO. According to Murray some of the issue with the bill list included duplicate bills that should have already been paid, things applied to the wrong accounts, and a payment listed only as $7,500 for someone named “Headley” with a Roselle address and a description listed as financial services.
There is a person with the last name Headley working as a purchasing agent in Irvington, but it was unclear if this was the same person, according to Murray. But it was also unclear what services this person provided.
“The mayor said the bill list was prepared by her and the clerk, so I don’t know what this other person did,” said Murray.
The councilwoman raised another concern, saying that by law, this payroll clerk can stay in the position for up to two years, but is only allowed to pay bills for services that are required to keep the government running.
“She really does not have the educational background even just to handle basic financial issues,” said Murray.
When asked about a search for a new qualified and permanent CFO candidate, Murray put the blame squarely on the mayor.
“Once again, we’ve asked the mayor, but she has not moved on it,” said Murray. “That’s her function to appoint those positions, but for whatever reason, she will not move on it and has not moved on it.”
The council president did not mince words either.
“We told the mayor we need to get a CFO in here, literally like now,” Saxton said.
A special public meeting was called for Wednesday, Nov. 4. LocalSource will feature coverage of this meeting in next week’s issue.