The Montclair Township Council
The Montclair Township Council

The Montclair Township Council spent much of its November 29 meeting talking about traffic issues, and Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors heard from Police Chief Todd Conforti on the issue.

Chief Conforti said the Montclair Police Department was faced with a staffing issue in the traffic bureau when he took over in March.  He said that at the time, there was no one who was exclusively assigned to handle traffic enforcement.  He said that Traffic Bureau Sgt. Stephanie Egnezzo – since promoted to lieutenant – has done a good job in the traffic bureau but that there has only been so much she can do. Chief Conforti wanted to staff it effectively and has since assigned two officers to the bureau – one officer dealing with only traffic than the department has had.  The actual enforcement, Chief Conforti said, is largely complaint-driven, and the department goes to certain areas based on the complaints.  He has seen an increase in stops and summonses, but regular officers who have been handling traffic issues have been diverted to other services.  Chief Conforti said that he has had a good rapport with the two traffic officers, and he expects stops and summonses to continue to rise in 2017.  He also credited Lt. Egnezzo with expanding education on traffic issues in the community to foster more responsible driving.

The council was pleased overall with Chief Conforti’s report.  Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock expressed hope the traffic bureau could address the problem facing Grove Street, where motorists speed aggressively down the street and make it unsafe for First Ward residents to walk to Brookdale Park.  Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo stressed the need to enforce Montclair’s uniform 25-mile-per-hour speed and suggested that more speed limit signs were needed, citing the installation of extra signs on Park Street in the early 90s and how that initiative made Park Street safer.  Lt. Egnezzo said that extra signage was beneficial, adding that the traffic bureau tries to be proactive in enforcing speed limits and looking at traffic studies to find the best way to deal with the issue.

Speed Limits

The discussion came amidst the backdrop of new ordinances and resolutions dealing with speed limits on major streets in the township, but the results were decidedly mixed.  An ordinance passed on second reading would have made the speed limit on Valley Road 30 miles per hour from Bloomfield Avenue to Bellevue Avenue and from Laurel Place to the Clifton border, subject to the consent of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.  (Valley Road is also County Route 621.)  But Councilor Russo and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville objected to having a speed limit over 25 mph anywhere on Valley Road, and when Acting Township Manager said that a “no” vote o the ordinance would codify a 25-mph speed limit for all of Valley Road, the council voted it down 5-1 (Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller was absent) with only Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon voting yes.   A second ordinance establishing exceptions to the 25-mph speed limit with a 20-mph speed limit on Bloomfield Avenue for trucks and buses near the Montclair Kimberley Academy’s high school campus, along with a 30-mph speed limit on Upper Mountain Avenue from Mount Hebron Road to the town line and from Laurel Place to Watchung Avenue and a 35 mph limit from Watching Avenue to Bloomfield Avenue, was also up for a vote.  However, the measure, which also included a uniform 30-mph limit for Grove Street, was tabled for further discussion.

Councilor McMahon said that a resolution requesting an additional four seconds for each vehicular phase in the intersections of Valley Road and Lorraine and Bellevue Avenues for a minimum six-month trial period would create worse backups in the traffic going through the Upper Montclair business district and requested a three-month period instead.  Township Engineer Kim Craft said that extending it from the beginning of the new year in to the warmer months would provide more information, and she said that it could be tweaked to prevent any serious backups.   Councilor McMahon suggested that the word “minimum” be taken out of the language to provide more flexibility, and the resolution passed so amended, 6-0.   Also, parking restrictions on Amherst Place and College Avenue near Montclair State University passed 5-0 on second reading, although Dr. Baskerville abstained to stress her desire to see parking problem on Montclair streets resolved single-handedly rather than in piecemeal fashion.  A resolution authorizing two-foot striped medians for Grove Street, Elm Street and two-way sections of Orange Road was also passed.  In the meantime the council passed, 5-1, an ordinance on second reading increasing sewer use rates with different rates for pipes of different sizes.  Dr. Baskerville cast the only dissenting vote.

Montclair As Sanctuary City and Sister City

One resolution that did not make out of the council at all was a resolution declaring Montclair a sanctuary city for immigrants.  Some of the councilors found the language offering support for immigrants to be too convoluted, and it also seemed to violate the Faulkner Act by dictating terms to the township manager’s office.  This resolution, apparently introduced at the last minute, as it was not on the meeting’s agenda as displayed on the town’s Web site, was ironically tabled over its flaws.  Mayor Jackson said that the resolution suggested that Montclair put more value in words than actions, citing the efforts of many community activists to help immigrants, but Dr. Baskerville said the resolution would be a signal that the town was redoubling its efforts on that issue.

Raffaele Marzullo displays a gift box from Aquilonia, Italy, a candidate for Montclair's newest sister city.
Raffaele Marzullo displays a gift box from Aquilonia, Italy, a candidate for Montclair’s newest sister city.

The council also heard a presentation from Montclair resident Raffaele Marzullo about the possibility of making Aquilonia in southern Italy a sister city.   Joined by former Police Chief Tom Russo (no relation to Robert) in the presentation,  Marzullo explained how the town, named for a famous battle between the Samnites and the Romans (who won) in the era before Christ, had been a leading charcoal producer and had seen many residents, including Marzullo himself, emigrate to Montclair as well as other parts of northern New Jersey.  Council members thought it a splendid idea.  Councilor Russo stressed his Italian heritage, as Hurlock and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager stressed theirs, in recognizing the cultural diversity of Montclair’s residents.  Marzullo gave the mayor and council members gift boxes of food and drink from Aquilonia as a friendly gesture.

The Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore in Aquilonia, Italy, likely Montclair's next sister city. Image courtesy of Google.
The Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore in Aquilonia, Italy, likely Montclair’s next sister city. Image courtesy of Google.

Raise For Director of Utilities, Salary Increase Proposed For Council and Town Manager

Salary increases for township employees were also introduced in first-reading ordinances.   One ordinance sets the annual salaries of the mayor and the township councilors at $10,000 and the township manager’s annual salary  at a minimum of $145,000 and at a maximum of $175,000.  Both passed unanimously, and Councilor Russo said that the mayor and council members deserve to be compensated sufficiently so that people who want to run for office can afford to serve.  He did add, though, that he would not accept a salary increase for himself should the ordinance pass on second reading.  One second-reading ordinance pertaining to salaries did pass, setting the annual salary of the Director of Utilities at a $96,276 minimum and at a $143,965 maximum.

Also, the town awarded outgoing library director David Hinkley a proclamation honoring his work.  Mayor Jackson credited him for transforming the library into a great repository of information.

Montclair Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock presents a proclamation for outgoing Montclair Library Director David Hinkley.
Montclair Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock presents a proclamation for outgoing Montclair Library Director David Hinkley.

14 replies on “Montclair Council: Traffic Woes and Introduction of Salary Increases For Council, Town Manager”

  1. I spent many years in corporate management successfully running high tech, people intensive, organizations.

    My philosophy was to always pay very well so that we would always have stellar performers.

    There are key positions in Municipal government where we must have “the best.” Among others, these include finance, the Town Manager, and especially IT!

    The Council gave themselves a modest $3,000 increase — from $7,000 to $10,000. Neither number is sufficient for someone to support themselves, or a family. People don’t run for office at a local level to “make a killing.”

    I should say, though, that the most important town positions are in the BOE, and the Superintendent’s salary cap is a killer.

  2. Maybe arguably well-deserved, but a 42% increase is not modest. Yes, the Councilor positions haven’t had an increase since at least 2007 and an increase is due. However, the Council does get medical/dental/vision benefits, which during your term, was about $25,000 for a family plan. I don’t know what this amounts to today and who is subscribing to it, but our health insurance costs have gone up 35% since then.

    I thought this $10,000 is technically a stipend and therefore, not performance based. If performance based, I have no problem supporting it for the current council. However, all councilors to follow will get this regardless of performance. The Council’s compensation offers a nice package for what is technically a part-time position.

    This is what is required to attract the the talent we want running the Council. Fine. But, they are being compensated fairly for their efforts. Modest is not the word I would use.

  3. You are right, Frank. The “big” part of the compensation is the health benefits!

    For me, I used the “salary” to pay for tickets (for myself) for the various fund raising events we were invited to. I also used it to buy legal books on municipality governance and financing. I also used it to pay the “normal” expenses like tolls, mileage, etc. I was a bargain.

  4. If not mistaken, the town decided to abandon the state’s medical coverage pool and joined one being hawked by none other than Joey Double Dipper D’s brother. I think IMAC was the name of the plan. Of course, there’s no proof of any wrongdoing, but I wish just once, the town actually looked in the rear view mirror when it comes to financial decisions to see if they panned out. I still haven’t been able to find out how much more commercial property taxes the retailers on South Park Street are paying since the pricey upgrade. After all, the upgrade was supposed to be paid by them. So is the way of the public sector where there lacks a profit motive and the taxpayer can always be charged more.

  5. As Carey Africk knows, being a Councilor is like having a second full time job time-wise. No one is getting rich doing this work. So the uptick now to $10k is really de minimis. It’s needed to cover the added tickets being purchased for community events you see them at, as well as expenses like the $10-20 a pop breakfast, lunch or a drink Councilors have with constituents to discuss some issue they wanted. We don’t see all those private intake meetings each week but they happen.

    Even with medical benefits, which not all use anyway if they have a primary employment or state pension like Bob Russo I believe — the stipend for expense reimbursement still doesn’t provide a fiscal “gain” time-wise for all the “public service” provided.

    As to Frank R. and Stu’s issues of performance or decisions — the obvious answer is to better hold people to account, or try to vote them out. Linking expense stipends to performance as Frank R. alluded to is really missing the mark. Who then decides?

    Bottom line — it’s been 10 years since the last raise. More $ is needed just to cover the amount of added charity events and tickets Councilors purchase for their constituent’s benefits.

  6. From a management (or concerned citizen) perspective, what is important is total spending on salaries and benefits for the last five years! How many people are employed now vs 2012?

    I’ve seen many Ordinances increasing salaries, and I’ve seen more people hired. We need data.

  7. I do not think a raise for the TC is out of line. It is a part time position that requires so much more. Now to what Cary brought up which I think is the center of many Montclair issues, the rearview mirror and data. The town does many things on “light air” as I say. That is, no real studies on what contemplated items and their effect are. Any traffic studies in the last 5 – 10 years on development? Any studies on our waste treatment and the development of apartment buildings? Any water studies on the increase in population? This article also brings out a problem I have wondered about for awhile. It is often said that the Montclair Police Department is top heavy. Now it is reported that we have 1, repeat 1, traffic enforcement person in the entire town. Wow now maybe 2. This is a town that has problems in this specific area and we do not add resources to deal with it. It does go back to Cary’s comments……………..DATA from the past to show the road to the future.

  8. Cary & Martin

    To be clear, the Pandora’s Box issue is the justification for a raise in the stipend (& using public funds) for charitable donations. As an aside, I think it is inappropriate for a charity to invite public officials and expect them to pay their own way or make donations.

    If elected officials are expected to make donations as part of their job, then it should be expensed separately and not come out of their stipend. The Town can set a $50 maximum per event, per Councilor, per event attended. The stipend should be given to offset the time-related expenses in performing their duties.

  9. Montclair has a host of complex issues that its leaders need to tackle. We’re also blessed with having a lot of smart, interested people who want to tackle those issues.

    What I’d love to see is a real discussion in town about whether (1) the Council-Manager system is still the right choice for Montclair, and (2) if so, we’re doing the right thing by having all seven members of the Council stand for election at the same time. Most folks don’t realize how little operational control the Council has over township services. Under our system, all employees work ultimately for the Town Manager, and only the Council acting as a group can give binding instructions to the Town Manager. Everything else is just a suggestion.

    We could, theoretically, shift to a system with a stronger mayor. That mayor could be part-time, as we have now, or even full time with a salary. Would that be better for Montclair? I don’t know, and I’d like to hear other people’s views about it. If we keep the current system, which seems most likely, do we need At-Large council members, or are the four Ward councilors sufficient? Then, whether the Council has five or seven members, do we want them to have staggered terms, so that there’s always some continuity, or do we like the current system where the entire Council can turn over all at once?

    If we’re ever going to have this conversation, this Council, which has been a terrific, cohesive group, would be the one to start it.

  10. Compelling. Intelligent. Proactive.

    Sorry, we’re not going to have the conversation.

    Don’t shoot the messenger.

  11. No, I would disagree with your assessment that this Council should/could initiate the conversation.

    Put the initiative on You never know.

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