LINDEN – Does Linden need a municipal business administrator? A recent ad hoc committee seemed to think so and unanimously recommended creating the position, echoing what another committee said 43 years ago.
Unfortunately, the recommendation was based on the city’s present form of government which the mayor strongly believes does not work efficiently and never will.
Mayor Rich Gerbounka would like nothing better than to bring a business administrator aboard, but only if the city changes its form of government so to one that is under the Faulkner Act.
“To have a business administrator under the present form of government will only create another level of bureaucracy and he or she will be nothing more than a figurehead,” said Mayor Rich Gerbounka, adding an administrator under the present form “would have responsibility but no authority.”
It’s no secret the mayor has been an outspoken advocate of changing the city’s form of government from the antiquated 1897 Wildwood Act to the Faulkner Act.
According to the mayor, 67 municipalities in the state operate under this form of government, including nine out of ten of the largest cities. Woodbridge, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Jersey City, Bayonne and Edison are several of the cities that use this form of government.
In fact, he believes unless the city changes its form of government, things will never operate efficiently.
“The time has come to bring Linden government into the 21st century and change our antiquated form of government,” Gerbounka said, adding that in order to do so, he will need the help of Linden’s citizens.
Under the present Wildwood Act, the mayor’s hands are virtually tied because he has neither full executive power nor the power to vote on legislative matters, such as the annual budget. That responsibility actually falls to a three or four member part-time councilmember committee who are appointed on a yearly basis. They put together the budget, which then is adopted by a majority vote of council.
It’s also no secret the city has had major issues every year when it comes time to putting together a budget and getting it passed in a timely manner. Every year the city is under the gun, over cap and unable to come to a meeting of the minds on what needs to be cut.
That usually results in layoffs surfacing in order to reduce the budget and keep it under the state mandated cap.
Gerbounka said he would like nothing better than to see a business administrator take over the reigns of the day-to-day operations of Linden’s municipal government.
“Government has become far too complicated to be run under part time council persons who have no idea how the city of Linden and all our departments operate on a day-to-day basis. I see and interact daily with our employees and put in 10 to 12 hours a day governing this city,” the mayor explained.
Linden is presently governed by part-time councilmember committees, none of which are able to agree on how the city should be run. This has caused considerable problems every year when the governing body is trying to draft the municipal budget or come to an agreement on issues.
Over 44 years ago a charter committee saw the shortcomings of the type of government the city was operating under. Although nothing was done about it then or since, the mayor was hoping to change things once and for all.
The ad hoc committee, formed in 2011 by council President James Moore, spent considerable time investigating the creation of the position of a municipal administrator. Those appointed to this committee included John Miliano, former mayor Paul Werkmeister, Gail Masssey, John Langan, Joseph Flemming, council persons Rich Puschel, Michelle Yamakaitis and Robert Sadowski.
The committee began their task of investigating whether the city even needs an administrator by inviting various business administrators to their meetings to discuss their functions and authority. Among those that met with the committee was Clark business administrator John Laezza, Summit administrator Chris Cotter, and Rahway’s former administrator Peter Pelissier.
Each of these administrators gave their input about the duties they perform and went over ordinances that created the position of administrator in their towns. The committee reported that they were able to ask many valuable questions and come up with information regarding the structure and actual duties of an administrator.
One of the concerns of the committee, according to the report provided to the mayor and city council, was that the citizens of Linden might feel the city was establishing another layer of government that would further prevent them from resolving issues concerning them directly.
“It should be remembered that elected representatives are the voice of the people, not an appointed administrator,” the committee noted in their report.
Although the committee addressed the added cost of hiring an administrator, they felt that the economic benefits overall outweighed the expense. Specifically, they mentioned the way things are handled now allows for inconsistencies in applying personnel polices, work rules and union contracts, which can prove costly to the city.
“With oversight and authority being placed in the hands of an administrator to implement the direction of the governing body, these issues would be eliminated,” the ad hoc committed pointed out, adding the budget would, though, be developed according to the direction of the governing body.
In order for the position of city administrator to work, they stressed, everyone, especially the city council, would have to agree it is the best thing for Linden in the long run. But, the committee thought it was best if the selection of the candidate and recommendation of a candidate by the council rests with the mayor, so a qualified person, who is a good fit for the city, would be selected.
They also felt using the Administrator Recruitment and Selection Service, a joint service offered by the New Jersey League of Municipalities, in cooperation with the New Jersey Municipal Management Association, would be the way to go because of the success this has had in helping other towns through the administrator selection process.
The committee also felt a new administrator could not do this job alone, recommending hiring an executive assistant and secretary for this new department.
Despite the ad hoc committee spending considerable time and effort to research every facet of bringing aboard a business administrator, Gerbounka felt moving forward at this juncture would not work.
“Currently I’m against this ordinance which is a piecemeal way of doing things,” he said, adding the committee “was handcuffed by investigating only one option rather than all options.”
“How can you vote on a business administrator without a salary and responsibility attached?” Gerbounka said, adding that Linden needs, “government reform.”
“That’s why I intend to change our form of government by going directly to the voters and put this option on the ballot by direct petition,” the mayor said, pointing out that in order to do this he will need 4,000 signatures and a lot of hard work.
“I think it’s worth it,” he added.
This is not the first time someone tried to change Linden’s form of government.
In 1970 a Municipal Government Study Committee spent months going over every facet of how the city of Linden operated and what pitfalls there were that kept things from running smoothly. Apparently the question of charter reform was brought up by citizen groups and the governing body.
A charter committee was charged with investigating other forms of government available under the laws of the state and determining whether or not the city could be strengthened and made more accountable to its citizens.
After interviewing elected and appointed officials from other towns and cities and retaining the services of an outside legal counsel to assist in conducting the study, the committee came to a conclusion: Linden was in need of a new form of government and a full-time business administrator to supervise and coordinate various municipal departments.
This committee noted that by changing the municipal charter the city would have the greatest possible flexibility in local government structure, leaving the details of organization to succeeding administrations through the enactment and amendment of an administrative code.
This committee, 43 years ago, also felt the excessive burden on elected officials would be alleviated, therefore allowing council persons to devote themselves to legislative city polices and administrative oversight.
They stressed that under the Faulkner Act mayor-council form of government, an elected mayor would be the chief executive in the municipality. He enforces the charter and all ordinances, appoints a business administrator and all department heads with the advice and consent of council.
With just a year left to his term before re-election looms, Gerbounka feels he can get the city on the right track with the help of Linden citizens.
“With 4,000 signatures I can get the ball rolling,” said the mayor.