Available parking spaces and chairs were a rare find at the town council meeting held at the municipal building on January 2. The house was packed with well-wishers for Eric Wilsusen, Jefferson’s first new mayor in 20 years. Induction ceremonies were held for Wilsusen, council members Debi Merz and Kim Finnegan, and council newcomer Melissa Senatore.
Reverend P. Christopher Muldoon of Star of the Sea Church gave an invocation. State and county elected officials were represented by senators Betty Lou DeCroce (R) and Joseph Pennachio (R), freeholders Doug Cabana (R), Heather Darling (R), and Stephen Shaw (R), and former Jefferson mayors Horace Chamberlain (D) and Fran Slayton (R). Morris County sheriff James Gannon and county clerk Ann Grossi were also in attendance.
Gannon, who has known and worked with Wilsusen for more than 30 years, had the honor of administering his oath of office. Wilsusen in turn administered the oath of office for new council member Melissa Senatore, and township clerk Michele Reilly did the same for Merz; both will serve four-year terms.
For town council president, Jay Dunham nominated Robert Birmingham and Finnegan nominated incumbent president Merz. With one abstention (Dunham), Merz was elected unanimously. Dunham nominated Finnegan for vice president; she was elected unanimously with one abstention (Senatore). Reilly administered the oath of office to Merz and Finnegan.
New Firefighter Joins the Jefferson Team
Robert Albright III joined Fire Company #2 in Lake Hopatcong as a firefighter. Mayor Wilsusen administered the oath.
Dunham Raises Concerns over Proposed Expenditures
After Dunham voiced his concern over three agenda items, two were tabled and another was split until the questions could be resolved.
According to Dunham, Resolution 19-18 (Approving 2019 Cash Management Plan) included money for PNC and Chase banks. Because PNC had already left Jefferson and Chase would be moving in the next few weeks, Dunham asked why they should be given any funds. Wilsusen agreed, and stated that he is looking into the matter. Council members voted unanimously to table the resolution.
Resolution 19-23 (Authorizing the Payment of Bills) included a bill from the recreation board on behalf of the board of education for approximately $9,800, and Dunham questioned how the money was used. When an answer could not be provided, he requested removal of the recreation bill from consideration until the question could be answered satisfactorily. The council agreed, and approved the remaining bills for payment.
Dunham noted that Resolution 19-24 (Authorizing Participation in the Morris County Adaptive Recreation Program – McARP) includes a participation fee of $3,000. While acknowledging that the sum is not large, he was hesitant to vote without explicit detail on what the fee includes. According to its website, The Arc/Morris County Chapter hosts the McARP program, which provides recreation to children and adults with developmental disabilities, developmental delays, and mental retardation. Merz reported that there are probably five Jefferson participants in the program; however, in the absence of written confirmation, she made a motion to table the topic and the remainder of the council agreed.
Resolution 19-31 (Township of Jefferson Supporting Proposed Legislation That Would Make Certain Changes to Police and Fire Interest Arbitration Procedures) imposes a 2% cap on interest arbitration awards for certain unions. The resolution was approved unanimously with one abstention (Senatore).
Resident Robert Vander Ploeg, Jr. noted the increasing monthly fee for time tracking software, inquiring why the invoice was $471 for November and $579 for December. Dunham responded that the fee covers rent and support of the equipment, but the council had not approved the contract. Wilsusen reported that the software, implemented in 2018, was currently in test phase. His new administration intends to create a policy and procedure and review the fee; he had not been involved in the contract.
Resident Larry LaSala stated that he is appalled by the conditions of Foreign Care Auto on Ridge Road. Having seen vermin crossing the road and running into the ball field next door, he observed that “it has turned into a junkyard.” Merz said that the administration would investigate.
Resident Ann Augustin questioned the reasoning behind Resolution 19-04 (Establishing Procedure for Public Comment Before the Jefferson Township Council). Merz explained that the resolution restricts public speaking to five minutes and may never need to be imposed. However, in sessions attended by many residents, the rule will ensure that people have the opportunity to speak without grandstanding. Attorney Lawrence Cohen added that the resolution imposes a five-minute public comment session per person, per session, and advised that an extension could be requested of the council. Augustin described the procedure as a restraint on free speech, which she did not believe was warranted in Jefferson. Birmingham noted that regular town council meetings include two open public forums. While other towns restrict one public portion of the meeting to discussion of agenda items only, Jefferson does not currently do so. Therefore, each resident could speak for five minutes in each session for a total of 10 minutes, which he considered ample time to express concerns.
The next town council meeting is January 16 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building. A representative from the Department of Transportation will discuss the traffic light at Route 15 and Berkshire Valley Road. In addition, redevelopment plans for the former Pathmark on Route 15 will be presented and interim business administrator John Eskilson will be introduced.