Acting Montclair Township manager starts checking off to-do list
Brian Scantlebury, who became acting township manager after the council put Timothy Stafford on administrative leave last month, had a long list of items to report at the council meeting on Monday, Nov. 14.
Some of those items addressed issues that have been languishing for many months, including filling vacant directorships in township government, and he politely but directly told the councilors not to interfere with his department heads.
Toward the end of the meeting, he spoke for about 20 minutes, detailing some of the responsibilities he has taken on, some major changes he would like to make and his intention to take a firm grip on the reins of the job.
One of his proposed changes would change the structure of the township government, affecting the offices that handle Section 8 housing and rent control, he said.
Section 8, or the Housing Choice Voucher program, provides assistance to low- and moderate-income families so they can rent housing in the private market.
In April, the Township Council passed a new rent control ordinance, which took effect in May.
“I plan to consolidate the rent control office and the Montclair Housing Authority, which is known as Section 8, into a new office of Landlord Tenant Relations,” Scantlebury told the council. “Aside from the economies gained by having institutional knowledge of housing laws and regulations in one shop, messaging is important.”
The term Section 8 has stigma attached to it, the acting township manager said, and some people in the community do not like using the word “control” regarding rents.
“Softening the message by eliminating the adversarial, somewhat stigmatizing language — such as control and Section 8 — may lend itself to a reboot in the relationship between this portion of our government and the greater community,” Scantlebury said.
Councilor Lori Price Abrams asked if the changes would require action by the council, especially since the rent control ordinance was passed just months ago. He said that both offices would continue to exist, but that they would be under the umbrella of Landlord Tenant Relations.
“The idea is to gain the economies of scale and the institutional knowledge by putting them within one shop,” he said, “and I think we can all benefit from that.”
At another point in his report, Scantlebury held up a thick sheaf of paper and announced happily, “I tracked down the employee handbook.”
He said the handbook for nonunion employees was completed by outside counsel in January 2022.
“What I'm going to do is put it out for review,” he said, nodding at interim Township Attorney Paul Burr. Scantlebury added that he planned to distribute it to the staff in January 2023.
“It’s been here a year,” he said. “It wasn’t — for whatever — but I have it here.”
In another organizational matter, Scantlebury said he was going to create organizational charts for the township government and for all the departments. He said the charts would be published on the website in January. “It's not only good for us to know, but it's good for members of the public,” he said.
The acting township manager said that he had taken a “mini tour” of the storage areas in the Municipal Building and that the limited space in the building, at 205 Claremont Ave., is not being used well. He said he would look into off-site storage of documents with a company like Iron Mountain “in an effort to move our records management into the 21st century, as well as free up some space in 205 for more effective usage.”
Mayor Sean Spiller cautioned that Iron Mountain could be expensive and that it’s important to be clear about what the record retention dates are. Scantlebury said he would look at several companies.
Regarding a number of township positions that have been vacant for extended periods, Scantlebury said he was moving forward to fill them.
“Since the last council meeting, I had the second interview for the human resource director’s position,” he said. “I forwarded an offer, and it's pending the response.”
He added that he has conducted a second interview for the Senior Services director’s position and has started reviewing resumes for the Health Department director’s position.
Scantlebury said he had signed the 2023 agreement with Essex County for the Ride for Life program, so there will be no interruption in transportation for seniors.
And he asked that council members refrain from dealing directly with department heads in the township government. Under Montclair’s form of government, elected officials are supposed to work through the township manager instead of going directly to township employees.
“In meeting with the directors, they did voice a concern with being contacted directly by the governing body members,” Scantlebury said.
He added: “Let's go back to the old routine. I would appreciate that. It would help.”