When Montclair firefighters, at the end of June, overwhelmingly voted “no confidence” in Montclair Fire Chief John Herrmann’s ability to lead the Montclair Fire Department, Montclair Councilors David Cummings and Peter Yacobellis indicated that acting town manager Brian Scantlebury would address the situation.
Now, a last-minute agenda item for tonight’s township council meeting, has the council considering a contract with the Shrewsbury-based Government Strategy Group, that, if passed, will change Scantlebury’s role.
In an email to constituents, Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis said the township was considering bringing in a “third party” to place an interim manager in the role; begin a statewide search for a manager; and consult with the council on governance.
“It says a lot that the GSG item was not included on the agenda Friday and not available for the public to see it until the last minute,” said Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings Tuesday. “To me it is a waste of money to consider bringing in an interim manager who will have to rely on the current acting manager to do anything. What I want to know, and what I asked the last time this was discussed is, what is not being done under the acting manager?”
The team at GSG has a familiar face, or two. GSG’s executive managing director is Joseph Hartnett, a former Montclair town manager. David Sabagh, former Montclair chief of police, is listed as a managing director for public safety.
At the June 13 council meeting, when GSG was first discussed, Cummings questioned why another group was being brought in, before having looked at the results of Culturupt’s analysis that cost the township $15,000.
Cummings, at the June council meeting, said the GSG proposal was disrespectful to Scantlebury. He read a long list of Scantlebury’s accomplishments into the record including hiring a human resources director; updating the employee handbook; initiating an anonymous HR tip line; launching an EAP program and creating an employee newsletter. Cummings said Scantlebury also addressed numerous workers compensation claims and litigation.
“I think it’s really just two or three members of this body who don’t want him [Scantlebury] here for personal reasons,” Cummings added at the June meeting.
When put to a vote in June, the GSG resolution failed because there were only three votes for (Spiller, Yacobellis and Councilor Lori Price Abrams) and four votes were needed. Cummings and Councilors Bob Russo and Bill Hurlock voted no. Councilor Robin Schlager was absent.
If a revised GSG resolution passes tonight, Scantlebury could apply for the manager position during the search phase, Yacobellis said.
“A lot of senior employees raised concerns to me about how the town has been managed over the last few months. I think it’s prudent to bring in experts, including a former Montclair manager, to guide us as we govern through such a dynamic period,” he added.
The revised resolution states GSG would provide professional services from July 18, 2023 through December 31, 2023 with a total amount of the agreement not exceeding $50,000.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda is a resolution authorizing a professional services contract with the Cedar Grove-based Ambrose Group to provide an assessment of the Township’s fire department, for a period of one year, not to exceed $22,500.
In a June 2023 Montclair Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association (FMBA) Local 20/20A online vote, 70 electors were asked to respond to this question: “I have confidence in Chief Herrmann’s ability to lead our department.”
Fifty — more than 75% — voted no. Sixteen voted yes and four abstained.
Firefighters, who, fearing retaliation spoke on condition of anonymity, are frustrated that nothing has been done in response to the “no confidence” vote.
“I voted because the favoritism, the nepotism, the cronyism is rampant,” said Firefighter 1 of his decision to vote no confidence, who added that the alleged favoritism was evident in the treatment of Group 4 — the group at headquarters that includes Herrmann’s son.
John Fierro, president of Montclair FMBA Local 20, said Tuesday that he still had no comment on the majority no confidence vote by union members and confirmed he would not be speaking at tonight’s council meeting. Regarding what happens next after a no confidence vote, Fierro said he could not comment on anything procedural, but added “there is a process and we are working through the process.”
Fierro would also not comment further on Station 3, the fire house that has been alleged in a lawsuit to have been used as punitive tool because of its poor working conditions, conditions that Fierro disputed.
“Take a poll and ask the entire membership who would like to work under the conditions that exist right now. Nobody would raise their hand,” said Firefighter 1.