HILLSIDE, NJ — Hillside’s superintendent of the Departments of Public Works has resigned after only three months on the job.
Sandra Caceres cites a demotion to general supervisor, a 30 percent cut in pay, and difficulty working under Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson as the deciding factors in leaving her post.
According to Caceres, she sent a letter to Garretson on April 21, in which she clearly outlined her grievances — Caceres’s response to a letter Garretson had sent to her just three days earlier, a letter which she refers to as the “90-day-offer” letter.
According to Caceres, she was installed by the town council at their Jan. 19 meeting as acting superintendent of Public Works and public engineer.
However, a meeting with Garretson on April 13 — the end of Caceres’s 90-day acting position — Garretson informed her that she could no longer keep her in that position, instead offering Caceres the position of general supervisor of Public Works at a salary of $80,000, a pay cut of $35,000 dollars.
According to Caceres, Garretson’s excuse for the demotion was the absence of a salary ordinance in place for a permanent position. “You indicated that the problem was that you did not have a salary ordinance for the permanent position I am currently holding as acting,” wrote Caceres. “At this moment, I am not in the position or in any desire to continue working with the municipality if my compensation and my titles are not what I was hired for. Unless I hear from you by the end of business day tomorrow, April 22, 2016, you can consider this my resignation letter.”
Caceres, who formerly served as the assistant township engineer in both Clark and Cranford, as well as serving as director of public works in Cranford, said that she left her job as a consultant at an engineering firm in order to take the position in Hillside — a decision she now deeply regrets. “I’m a professional woman,” said Caceres. “This is not the kind of treatment I’d expect. I probably would never have quit my other job.”
According to Caceres, working under Garretson was a nightmare. “It was a crazy time,” said Caceres. “She wanted to be more involved with everything than necessary.”
Caceres said that it was Garretson’s dictatorial attitude, along with her outrageous demands, that made her working environment miserable. “She wanted keys to my office,” said Caceres of Garretson. “She also wanted to relocate the DPW into the basement of town hall and not give them their own building. I told her that was not a good idea. She told me that I had to do what she said and that she was the boss.”
Caceres cites issues with snow removal as a point of contention with Garretson, although she asserts that her department was handling the situation diligently. Despite this, however, Caceres said that Garretson hired an outside contractor to remove the snow off Hillside’s streets — to the tune of $400,000 dollars. “We did the best we could,” said Caceres. “We cleaned the roads, got the snow off the streets. But she hired an outside firm to deal with the snow removal. She was not happy with the workers,” she said of Garretson.
Calls made by LocalSource to both Garretson and the DPW were not returned. Hillside business administrator Stephanie Bush-Baskette said that the township was unable to comment.
Caceres said that she performed her duties well and that there was no cause by Garretson to demote her to a lesser position or to cut her salary. “There have been no issues with my job performance,” Caceres indicated in her letter to Garretson.
But according to Hillside councilman Gerald P. Freedman, there was never a salary agreement in writing between Garretson and Caceres. “There was some contention over salary, but that was never in writing,” said Freedman of the agreement between the two parties. “I don’t know where she’d get that from. I guess the mayor told her.”
Caceres claims that a salary of $115,000 dollars was discussed and agreed upon at an interview meeting with Garretson, but that her salary was actually based on just $110,000 dollars annually — a discrepancy that Caceres tried to discuss with Garretson repeatedly but with no success.
Freedman asserts that the town was not better off with Caceres. “We’re not sorry to see her go,” said Freedman of Caceres. “Not too many people think she did a good job. The town was not any cleaner.”
Freedman said that the council was unaware of when the post would be filled. “I don’t even think the job is advertised yet,” said Freedman.
Caceres maintains that the department is equipped with substandard equipment — and too little of it. In addition, Caceres claims that unqualified workers have been employed by Garretson. “She hired a DJ to do code enforcement,” said Caceres.
Caceres said that she was informed that a code enforcement officer was currently filling her position. “It does not surprise me that one of the code enforcement individuals is currently doing my job,” said Caceres. “The person is one of her do-it-all kind of guys. He even buys her lunch, dinner, coffee and breakfast. I know this for a fact, as I was at many meetings with her and he brought stuff to eat for her.”
Caceres said that she is now on the job hunt once again. “I am a single mother of three who has always worked hard to first provide for my family and to teach my children that in life, when you do bad it will always backfire on you,” said Caceres. “I have worked very hard all my life to be where I am now, and I personally do not appreciate when someone like the mayor tries to stab me in the back or tries to make my reputation questionable.”
Caceres believes that there is not much that can be done under the Garretson administration. “The mayor is the type of woman who wants to impose herself on you,” said Caceres. “If she doesn’t get her way she gets very arrogant and disrespectful. There’s not very much you can do with a person like that.”