It’s a sad day for Montclair, a day I frankly never thought would arrive, a day in which faith in one of our town’s great institutions has been shaken. 

Still, no matter how painful it is we must force ourselves, unlike election deniers, climate change deniers and people who still refuse to get their COVID booster, to face the shocking but unavoidable truth – this column was wrong. 

OK, I was wrong, but it sounds a lot better to blame it on “the column.”

For months, this column (me) has been saying that no one was in charge of our town government, but it turns out that was wrong! Township Manager Timothy Stafford has not, as we suspected, been on permanent vacation. Instead, Stafford has been keeping very busy, one township investigation has found and two lawsuits have alleged, engaging in abusive behavior directed at female employees.  

Montclair’s chief financial officer, Padmaja Rao, said in a lawsuit filed on Oct. 17 that Stafford engaged in “verbal abuse and bullying” toward her and “a pattern of hostile conduct” toward other female employees. 

Former chief deputy clerk Juliet Lee, in her own, separate action, accused Stafford of creating a “hostile work environment” for her and other female staff.

All this time we thought Stafford was merely goofing off, but apparently he took frequent breaks from doing nothing to, according to Lee, single out female employees for verbal abuse and bursts of temper, at one point ordering her to search through a garbage can to find some papers. She says he sometimes called her into his office to watch him yell at other female employees. 

It would have been so much better if he had just goofed off. 

Stafford, of course, denies any wrongdoing. Does this column (me) believe him? No. Does it believe the women? Yes. What is harder to believe is that Mayor Sean Spiller and other town officials knew nothing about it. Didn’t they hear the yelling?  

The investigation conducted by Montclair’s affirmative action officer, Bruce Morgan, was finished in August. On Sept. 26, CFO Rao was disinvited from the town’s Finance Committee meeting, the meeting where the much-disputed fire services contract was finalized. She says she was told by Deputy Township Manager Brian Scantlebury that the committee members found her “difficult to work with.” 

Difficult? I guess if you disagree with the town’s leaders about fire service contracts (she did) and if you point out that some council members were improperly receiving health benefits (she did), they might find you “difficult.” 

Spiller and two other committee members, Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock and Councilman David Cummings, deny they ever said such a thing. OK, if they say so. But why didn’t they insist that Rao be included in the committee meeting? Why wasn’t the news that she had been found “difficult” enough for them to suspect that something was dreadfully wrong?

You would think that in post-“Me Too” People’s Republic of Montclair, being told that a woman is “difficult” would be a red flag for sexism and gender discrimination. But our elected leaders did nothing. Did they read Morgan’s report? Did they even know about it? Did they look the other way, or did they enable the harassment, or is there a difference?

Either way, this truly is a sad day for our town. We need a fuller investigation to understand how this could have happened and who, if anyone, should have stopped it. And it points once again to the desperate need to change our system of government. We can no longer be at the mercy of a dictatorial town manager who answers to no one and elected leaders who take no responsibility for what happens. We need an executive, full-time mayor who is responsible for day-to-day administration and answerable to the voters. 

But, hey, it’s not all bad news. After a delay of more than 10 months, the unimaginatively named Midtown parking deck has finally opened. For some reason, the inaccurately named Parking Utility (a 10-month delay does not qualify as utility) decided the structure needed a “soft opening,” kind of like Willy Bank’s casino in “Ocean’s Thirteen.” 

They offered free parking from Nov. 10 to 14, so it looks like you missed your chance. Let me tell you, it is truly a deluxe experience, with painted lines and concrete floors and everything. Well worth the wait. Or not. 

Meanwhile, in actual good news, Montclairians turned out on Election Day, single-handedly turning back the red wave and protecting democracy, decency and truth. And while we were at it, we overwhelmingly approved the school bond issue, which may have happened because people didn’t understand how much money was involved but which this column prefers to take as proof of our eagerness to do the right thing.

Now, if only our town government could do the same.

Richie Chevat, writer, activist, has been a Montclair resident for more than 30 years. He’s the author of the comic sci-fi novel “Rate Me Red,” the play “Who Needs Men?” and the young reader version of “A Queer History of the United States,” among other works. He can often be seen running errands around town on his bike.