Montclair, NJ – Montclair Town Council, shortly after midnight, voted on a resolution to “immediately place Township Manager Timothy Stafford on temporary paid administrative leave, without loss of salary or benefits, pending the conclusion of the independent employment practices investigation concerning the allegations and statements reportedly made by a council member in the previously referenced Montclair Local and Baristanet articles.”

Councilor Peter Yacobellis recused himself from the vote and left the chamber until after it was completed. Councilor Robert Russo was the only councilor to vote no, later explaining that he wanted to have Stafford terminated.

The vote came after a contentious meeting with Montclair residents carrying signs calling for transparency and others calling for Mayor Sean Spiller to resign.

Residents yelled out numerous times during the meeting, sometimes to challenge what was being said by the mayor, sometimes to heckle him, and other times imploring him to be transparent and to fix all that is broken in Montclair. Spiller tried to keep order.

The yelling wasn’t limited to the public portion of the meeting. When the council moved to executive session to discuss the resolution to put Stafford on leave for more than two hours, there was a conflict between Councilor Robert Russo and Councilor Robin Schlager. When the council came down to vote on the resolution, police were present at the back of the room. When the meeting adjourned, police officers asked Councilor Russo if there was an incident tonight and if he wanted to make a statement. He said he didn’t.

“I didn’t do anything but shout at them because they wouldn’t treat me with respect,” Russo said outside in the parking lot. He then pushed past police to go back inside the building, stating that nothing happened and if someone thought something happened, he would apologize.

Councilor Russo speaking with Acting Attorney Paul Burr with police standing by.

Councilor Robin Schlager and Councilor Bill Hurlock left to go to the police station to make a statement about an incident during the executive session. Hurlock and Russo also were in a shouting match during the meeting (starting around the 42-minute mark) over a proclamation Russo took from Hurlock at this meeting.

The explosive end to the meeting underscored how dysfunctional this council and government had become, something residents drove home again and again during public comment.

“Bullying and intimidation tactics are not a path toward good government or good living,” said Ann Lippel. “As a member of the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, I had the misfortune of knowing that our town manager’s toxic behavior was a major factor in causing Katie York, [former director of Senior Services], to leave. Katie’s competence and leadership skills were unrivaled in her field, and our seniors have been diminished without her.”

“Mayor Spiller, do you really think anyone believes you had nothing to do with retaliation against our CFO. That you didn’t know about the internal report detailing her harassment? Because she tried to do the right thing and follow proper procedures,” said Martin Schwartz. “The problem is not our Faulkner act of government, the problem is you. Do the right thing and resign.

“Over the last year, we have been subject to a government that is not doing its job,” said Lani Sommer-Padilla. “The people of Montclair have had enough. It is time for an independent investigation into all of this, and the investigator they should not be hired directly and improperly by the mayor.”

“Tim Stafford should have been fired for incompetence a long time ago,” said Deirdre Birmingham, citing the library, the parking deck, the pools, the bridge, the fire promotions exam and the “ridiculous shared services agreement.”

Before public comment the councilors discussed the proposed resolution introduced by Spiller before ultimately moving into executive session. Yacobellis, who had read a statement reacting to the investigation at the meeting’s 13-minute mark, then made a motion to amend the resolution, calling to strike several references to himself.

“This is ridiculous that this investigation is going to be about what I said to the press and not about the lawsuit that Ms. Rao filed against this town,” Yacobellis said to cheers from the crowd.

“If we are going to put him on administrative leave and do an investigation then it must be about Ms. Rao’s complaint about the manager and it must be about the investigation that has already taken place and was conducted by Mr. Morgan into the harassment allegations.”

It was an evening of angry conflict, both what the public witnessed and what transpired during executive session. Just before the meeting adjourned, Yacobellis spoke to those feelings.

“We broke tonight and I think we needed to break. My hope is that from that breakage we can go on a healing journey. I don’t think it gets any worse than this.”

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32 replies on “‘Montclair is Broken:’ Resolution to Put Stafford On Paid Leave, Police Called To Council Meeting”

    Yacobellis and Russo both need a time out

    Many statements, more than one of the “facts and accusations” by the public are completely WRONG and FALSE. Fact check them.

    Glad to see it was the same residents at the microphone week after week asking for information they are allowed to review by law at this time.

    I appreciate the Mayor and all participants who did not act like entitled spoiled characters and maintained order throughout the meeting.

    And paid leave for accusations is a standard, in the public and private sector. We would all receive paid leave in this situation female or male employee.

    One last thought the organization of the public speaking from the group is a shameful as a BAD reality TV show. From starting with the seniors and ending with the Mayors job description and salary. Let the process work and you always have the option to move. This meeting and residents are not the Montclair we all grew with and vote. Many in the audience know that’s the TRUTH.

  2. Apologize for above typos

    late night and some of us have to work and trust the process and officials

    We all voted IN

  3. Geez Jenn M — why don’t you disclose what your relationship is with Sean Spiller or his PR firm Publitics? This town needs truth, not spin doctors clearly loyal to this Mayor who is out of control. How broken do things need to get and in the gutter before anyone remembers where the buck stops. I don’t think Mayor Spiller should resign. But I’d like to start with him taking some responsibility and showing what leadership looks like.

  4. Due to scheduling considerations, the next Council meeting is next Tuesday. It is a Conference mtg. This Council discontinued video recordings of their Conference mtgs. No streaming. No video record. We will have to rely on the media’s, and social media’s reporting on what transpires….or doesn’t if there is a restraining order in place.

  5. I must have been watching a different meeting than Jenn M. While Russo’s yelling was out of line, lacked even a morsel of self awareness, and was totally ineffective, he was the only one who voted correctly. Peter is the only one up there I would ever vote for again. The disfunction and lack of competence of the entire council was out there for all of us to witness. A sad sad day for all of us.

    A paid vacation is a slap in the face to those of us who have to pay it. At the end of the day, what does it matter what the investigation turns up? There’s no path forward for Stafford in Montclair anymore. They should have fired him. They didn’t. Now they need to get fired. What a mess.

  6. I think the approval of the Council’s resolution R-22-219, temporary removal of the Township Manager, raises the question if the Council is getting good legal advice and if the resolution action was flawed.

    First, the Township Attorney entered his need to recuse himself at the onset of the R-22-219 introduction. However, he reinserted himself to help clarify the wording of the resolution being considered. It seems he only left the room as the during the Council deliberations. Tiny tacky maybe, but the stated purpose of his recusal was out of an abundance of caution, caution that seems to have been momentarily lost when the discussion later resumed.

    Second, the resolution only cited the media accounts as the impetus for the action. Which tells me that the Council did not want to directly acknowledge the existence of Mr Morgan’s report, much less include it as part of the justification to hire outside counsel.

    Third, Mr Burr, per media reports, received the report sometime after its August 30 completion. I have to question why Mr Burr did not immediately request the Council put Mr Stafford (& Ms Rao?) on administrative leave(s) because of a serious, but confidential personnel matter that required removal of employee(s) from the workplace.

    Fourth, what obligation does Mr. Scantlebury now have, as Acting Manager, to share Mr Morgan’s report with the Council? Maybe Mr Scantlebury can’t share it, but that should have been addressed last night in the context of explaining what should have, could have, or now must be done. Should the Assistant Township Attorney, as Acting Township Attorney due to her boss’s recusal in the matter, have addressed this in open session or was this privileged litigation advice?

  7. I also wonder about the Finance Committee’s majority decision & reasoning to remove the CFO from their meetings for the time being. If it wasn’t for performance, was it possibly because they saw the personal discord and tension between the Manager he CFO? If so, wouldn’t it have been logical to ascertain from each of the parties why? Maybe their intentions were good to at least eliminate their forum from further contributing to a situation that they thought was outside their purview?

    Nothing is lining up right, yet.

  8. BTW, all questions I would have had the option to address, for the public to consider, if this Council allowed remote public comment.

  9. Does anyone: 1) have a copy of the resolution that was passed, 2) know why Mr. Yacobellis abstained and left the room, and 3) know the contents of the complaint that Mr. Hurlock and Ms. Schlager allegedly filed?

  10. Frank, this!

    “ I have to question why Mr Burr did not immediately request the Council put Mr Stafford (& Ms Rao?) on administrative leave(s) because of a serious, but confidential personnel matter that required removal of employee(s) from the workplace.“

    This is the biggest question. And why I think so many are missing some major points.

  11. seriously,

    1. Normally 2-4 days before it is posted to town site
    2. PY recused himself, not abstain. With any ethical conflict, only the individual decides. Recusal requires leaving the room.
    3. No

  12. While this plays out and concurrent with the Council’s direction to examine the municipal organization from top to bottom, I think the Civil Rights Commission needs to prioritize a new study of the makeup of municipal management positions by all classes.

    Their 2016 study called out the diversity issues in the non-management service maintenance workforce. It would be illuminating to see the change since then, a further breakdown by gender, and by tenure. No sense paying an outside firm for something our CRC can provide and is particularly suited to undertake again.

  13. OK, my posts have danced around the big issues today while I continue to process what I saw last night. It was in a word, godawful. So here are my takeaways:

    1. The CFO’s continued long-term employment by Montclair is untenable. The obvious highest priority is the most efficient disposition of the lawsuit. To me, it is a generous negotiated settlement that both addresses the lawsuit and folds in a healthy severance package. No NDA – not enforceable anyway.

    2. Objective assessment of Acting CEO abilities and other factors that may preclude ability to effectively manage Township business for an extended period of time. No offense to Mr Scantlebury, but even a seasoned CEO will be challenged by our current circumstances.

    3. This Council, as currently constituted, has an insurmountable hurdle in regaining public confidence in their judgement and competence to meet the township’d needs going forward. Further, none indicated they will take a fall for all that has transpired. Ideally, by my way of thinking, 3 or more should resign. We need enough new, untainted representatives that will allow the public to give them the time and latitude to correct all that is wrong (that we know about). A special election could happen faster than the assessment reports on all that is lacking @ 205.

    4. The Township is understaffed and under-resourced. We need to contract for more outside services providers (e.g. legal & HR) to address near-term needs. We need a full-court press in the recruitment & filling open management positions, prioritizing key functions like HR.

    5. We need an immediate policy & procedure communication to all employees to allow confidential reporting of grievances and actionable measures to protect whistleblowers as defined by State law.

    6. Admit to & fix the fire department decisions. Make the GR contract compliant.

    A half dozen is a good start.

  14. Frank, re: the Finance committee, my running theory, which I just stated plainly on Secret Montclair and got banned for (someone will have to point to the rules) is this:
    1) Council agrees on the Fire bid (Russo votes no).
    2) after that bid, Peter Y asks the CFO to generate the report, outside of remit
    3) CFO does the end around of the finance committee, and provides the kindling for the final week of the fire controversy
    4) Finance committee, seeing this end around asks her to not appear for a bit.

    That’s the only thing that makes sense to me with this timeline, especially if the Morgan report was hidden as people suggest.

    But what do I know, I’m just a glen ridge resident that likes to stir the pot, according to PY, and the mob rule that was in the audience last night runs the Facebook pages, so they’re silencing anyone that questions their champion.

  15. I can confirm you have it patently wrong about 2 & 3. Ms Rao has the highest ethical standards. I could never say that about the Council.

    Glen Ridge could work on their standards, too. GR got the better of the deal because we bested you in ignorance. As I said before, the contract will not last. It is illegal. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Democrats in the past from getting their way, but they will wait until after the election.

    And last I checked, Representative Sherrill was also a resident and voter in Montclair. Crickets from a fellow Montclarion on anything Montclair. Not a good look. We send her to Washington for her to solve issues in Georgia. Maybe Georgia can send a representative to help in NJ?

  16. I’m happy to be wrong on #2 and #3, but nobody has actually answered who was the one that requested the report. It doesn’t seem like the Finance Committee would have requested it.
    Maybe I’m missing an article where it’s clearly owned who asked for it.

  17. I did not attend the meeting but I watched it on television. Some council members appeared ti be out of control. The audience did not appear out of control out all. There was no mob and those who chose to speak were, in general. remarkably articulate and restrained. They appeared to be citizens who were furious that our governing body has become such a disgrace. The meeting was the appropriate place to express their fury. The Mayor’s obnoxious requests for calm were exactly that. His declarations that he was upset too and identified with the audience’s anger when he was the principal cause of the anger was the kind of disingenuous posturing that gives politicians and those that claim to be engaged in piublic service a bad name and it only made the citizen attendees more angry.

  18. pardonmyfrench,

    I reread your “Frank, this!” post above where you cut/paste from my 11:40am. I now see I confused you.

    In a hostile workplace finding by the organization’s designated executive, where there are certain types of & combination of intimidating acts, and that these acts are likely to continue, the organization has no choice but to act with dispatch – typically prohibiting contact between the source and the target. Ideally, the source is removed from the premises. If both separation from the target or removal of the subject were unavailable, the organization is still obligated to proactively ensure the target is not further exposed. What an employer should never say is that their hands were tied.

    The lawsuit is immaterial as it was filed long after any reasonable definition of immediate action once the clock started officially 8/30. I would argue the clock should have started earlier.

    The short version of the above is if Mr Stafford could not be put on administrative leave immediately, then Ms Rao should have been protected by offering her paid leave.

  19. Frank, I wasn’t confused. I was agreeing with you. Hence there’s a whole lot more to this story. The common sense things to do simply weren’t. I don’t think that’s because they wouldn’t, more like they couldn’t. And it continues with paid leave. Legalities are a funny thing and one should always follow advice of counsel.

  20. What absolutely fascinates me pretty much from sunrise to sunset is the question of who does the CFO have a reporting relationship to in addition to the Township Manager? I always thought it was just to the Township Manager. He hires, fires, reviews, rewards. He is the conduit that require his approval to enter the inner sanctum of 205.

    Now it seems the CFO had a reporting relationship to the Deputy Manager. It seems some members of the Council must think she reports to them. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn then CFO has a reporting relationship to the taxpayers. How absolutely cool would that be?

    Speaking of cool…how much of a cowinkydink was it that the CFO called out the performance of the operator of the Clary Anderson rink (never an arena) to the Finance Committee. And it was recently raised as a possible senior center site? Oh, and we do need to revisit the high schools use of the rink now that we, the owners, are divorced from the schools. Fiduciary stuff, y’know?

  21. Frank,
    Clary Anderson Arena..(rink) is the best thing about this town!! Let’s fix what is actually broken first. The Arena should be last thing this town should be concerned with. It is a reminder of when citizens in this town worked together to get something done. I nominate the rink as a historical site. Could anything like that be built in this town today?
    (did you get cut from your peewee house league team?)

  22. FYi…one of the last acts of the Jackson Council was to bond $1.5MM for repairs to the arena. The Spiller Council voted last May, same time period the EEO opened his investigation of Mr Stanford, to amend the allocation to $70,000. I wonder what that Finance Committee mtg discussion was like that precipitated taking away funding?

  23. I remember the outdoor rink and the nice trailer locker room. Too bad the town blew the McMullen donation.

  24. It was an acutely brutal economic time for Montclair. We were looking at a double-digit tax increase. I hated the renovation.

    Of course, I played pickup games at Edgemont a century ago. They had no line changes and we played in Levis boot cut or painter pants from Louis Walensky’s (because they fit over our Bauer or CCM skates).

  25. Flipside- you are correct. At the end of my term as Mayor, John McMullen offered us $1m to renovate the arena, pool, and playground. I handed this off to my successor who was to work with Peter McMullen to get this done and we’d add McMullen Family Recreation Center at the entrance. The ball was dropped by the Town. That $1m would have been enough for all the work in 2008. Shame on Montclair

  26. Per the Montclair Times, their were three plans – good/better/best, $5MM, $7MM & $15MM. It sounds like you are describing good, the one you settled on as prudent. A $1MM, one time gift (20%) was not a particularly good option, even with some more private particpation, when the town had accumulated $180MM in mismanaged debt & expenses continued to spiral upwards. This was the same period as the Bullock School debate over an olympic swimming pool and designed yrs school without knowing how we would use it. That obviously came back to bite us in the rear.
    Montclair had a spending problem. Not your fault. We Boomers were just being Boomers. And we’re still hanging around!

  27. Getting bad legal advice is an understatement Frank Rubacky. Not fully covered in all of the news story recaps about the meeting was the incredible legal manipulation maneuver town attorney Paul Burr tried to pull from the start — with the mayor’s participation no doubt — to shut down any real council and public opposition.

    First, incorrectly using personnel privacy status for the council’s politically appointed Manager to try to stop any debate and discussion over the bogus suspension resolution drafted, that neither the public nor most councilors saw before the meeting. Saying to councilors they could only speak about the resolution read — now in an executive session. Of course — largely written about Peter Yacobellis for force him to recuse and to seeming help Stafford in his no doubt coming lawsuit. All bullshit….

    Burr even falsely claimed he had a conflict of interest and left the room to avoid heat over all this — leaving behind ass’t town attorney Gina DeVito hanging in the wind to try and defend that wrongly applied legal suppression maneuver.

    Residents would have nothing of it. They shouted down the ass’t town Attorney when she lamely tried to substantiate the deflection Pov tied back to Rao’s filed litigation. That’s because the Manager is not protected under civil service or government personnel laws. He serves at the Council’s pleasure and can be removed outright with 30 days notice. He is a political appointee and a public figure. So he gets an open public meeting within 28 days — if requested to air his positions if they vote for removal — should he believe he’s been removed unjustly. Good luck here if the removal statute was actually used.

    Many of these current council people and top township staff are actually anti-democratic— against transparency and against open process. You see it clearly at moments like this. They just need to go.

    Watch the meeting tape at 1 hour 39 minutes— where myself and June Raegner give them all a one-two — back in your face needed slap.

  28. There is not an Executive Session scheduled for Tuesday. I’m guessing they are giving the legal beagles the night off.

    I’d hate to try and sell a house in these times. Well, if New Yorkers continue not doing their due diligence, a seller could avoid taking a haircut.

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