Conflict within Hillside results in emergency meeting

HILLSIDE, NJ — Budget issues forced the Hillside Municipal Council to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

“The budget was due in January,” said Hillside Council President Gerald Pateesh Freedman in an email sent to Union County LocalSource on Sept. 29, before the meeting. “We’ve been stonewalled at every turn by administration to provide us with the necessary figures. This is the same game plan that they followed last year, when they proposed a 12-percent tax increase. Our accountants, up until last week, were also denied this information.

“The judges have requested additional sessions, which would more than cover the extra pay,” Freedman continued. “Our clerk is probably the lowest paid clerk in the county, if not the state. She has worked triple time because of and due to this pandemic. It is the obligation of a council to oversee expenditures, which this council takes very seriously, unlike some councils of the past.”

“The council sets the salary range for certain jobs,” said Hillside 1st Ward Councilwoman Andrea Hyatt in an email sent to Union County LocalSource on Sept. 29, before the meeting. “The mayor chooses the specific salary for the employee within the range that the council sets. The council introduced a budget on July 7, 2020, that included cuts to salary lines, which appeared to be specifically targeting certain individuals. It’s unfortunate just how easy it seems to be for people to take away someone else’s livelihood.”

“I can share what led up to it,” Hyatt said, regarding the upcoming emergency meeting. “We received a memo from Hope Smith, wherein she said she had spoken to a representative from Trenton. She itemized some details they discussed and explained that they anticipate a shortfall in payroll this week unless the council funds salary lines.”

Smith is the Hillside business administrator.

During the meeting, payroll was discussed as it pertained to administration, executive and health department payroll appropriations. Adrenaline ran high for some in attendance.

“There was an administrative shortfall and there was a health department shortfall according to Hope Monday night. So, working with auditors, we obviously have to make sure that people get paid,” Councilwoman at large Nancy Mondella said during the meeting. “But the amount that was asked for was excessive, as we plan on working on our budget in the coming week. So, according to our auditors, this would get us through.”

“For the record, we submitted a resolution last week to get us through October,” Hillside Chief Financial Officer Glynn Jones said during the meeting. “This resolution will not make sure that everyone in administration is paid this Thursday.”

When asked by 3rd Ward Councilman Donald DeAugustine who would be paid, Jones replied that he’d have to consult with the Labor Council, but that $5,000 wouldn’t be enough as the biweekly cost for administration is $11,600, which is what was needed.

When there was mention that the township would not be able to function under the law without a business administrator and that the business administrator — but no one else in administration — would be paid, frustration began to mount between DeAugustine and Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese, with Freedman intervening to bring order to the meeting.

“In council’s resolution, it’s $5,000 for administration and $9,600 for health,” Jones said. “The reason we’re doing this now is because the budget that was introduced was deficient. The budget that was introduced did not fully fund every department and every employee. In the original resolution presented, we had $31,000 to get through the month. Administration’s payroll is $11,600 per pay period.”

When asked by Mondella for further explanation of the $31,000, if it was only through October, Jones replied: “Because it was just three pays in October and that’s $11,000 per pay.”

“What we’re funding is not enough for this pay period,” added Jones, leading Freedman to reiterate that they were paying the business administrator, the mayor and the Health Department. “What I’m saying is it’s not enough to pay all of those people,” Jones continued.

Jones then broke down figures for each department.

“$11,600 for this pay period for administration,” Jones said during the meeting. “$9,600 is fine for the Health Department. That would actually get the Health Department through the end of October, but we don’t have enough in this resolution to pay administration for this Thursday. “So, I submitted payroll today without paying anyone in administration. I was hoping tonight we can introduce a resolution, so that I can submit for administration late tomorrow and maybe they can get paid Monday or Thursday, but this resolution does not have enough to pay everyone in administration. Everyone that’s currently employed in administration is not able to get paid from this $5,000.”

Jones said the combined figures of $11,600 and $9,606 totaled $21,206.

“This all seems foreseeable to me, so while it is extremely harsh at this moment, there’ve been two-and-a-half months that have passed,” said Hyatt during the meeting. “When you talk about the fact that we had budget issues this whole year and all of last year, it’s unfortunate that we are again in a situation where we’re being faced with another emergency temporary budget.”

“Our introduced budget was made known way back toward the end of May or June. That was late,” said Freedman.

“I have to side with Councilwoman Hyatt,” said Councilman at large Craig M. Epps during the meeting. “It seems to me that, if the budget was loaded, the administration should’ve had enough time to look at that and realize they were going to run into this situation, so that we would not be here now at the 11th hour.”
“We knew we were going to run into this situation when you introduced it,” Jones responded. “We implored you not to introduce that budget, and you did it anyway.”
But Freedman insisted that they knew about it, regardless.

“We were told that employees would be paid throughout the rest of the year. This was something that they ordered us to put in there. I wasn’t implementing any layoffs,” Vertreese said during the meeting. “All I’m saying is that we don’t need to go down this road of lawsuits. If we are not paying people for the work they’ve done, we’re going to end up back in litigation. This is going to cost us money, and we’ve already lost money, because we continually adopt a budget late.

“We’ve already lost over half-a-million dollars because of the tax assessments that continue to be recuperated for the township,” she continued. “How much money do we have to lose? Exactly which employees are you alleging were forbidden? What is this about? We’ve paid everyone that’s been on staff since the beginning of my administration and now you’re saying that you want to force layoffs? To whom?

“You just gave people raises,” she said, referring to a salary raise given to Hillside Municipal Court Judge Seth Dombeck and a $5,000 raise to acting township clerk Beverly Harris. “You gave all of these people raises, and now, all of a sudden, you want to talk about shortfalls in the budget and you can’t pay my administrative staff for the work that they’ve done? It’s unconscionable and it’s retaliatory.”

After another argument ensued between DeAugustine and Vertreese, Freedman was able to bring order to the meeting once again. All council members soon voted “yes” to resolve the issue.

“The mayor, the business administrator, a secretary, the Health Department were all paid,” Freedman said on Friday, Oct. 2. “The budget line, which did not include the secretary after much discussion, was also paid.”