After an hour of public discussion for and against, the Verona Town Council approved a new three-year contract for Town Manager Joseph A. Martin. The new contract, whose terms were not disclosed in the resolution approved at the meeting, runs through Aug. 31, 2016.
The Council chambers were packed with township employees, many of whom spoke in support of their boss. “I am honored to work for Mr. Martin,” said Lenny Waterman, a 32-year town worker. Jeff Hayes, Verona’s director of emergency management, praised Martin’s “commitment, inspiration, courage focus, vision and passion”. “I have no doubt that the morale in Verona is higher than in any other town in New Jersey,” Hayes added. George Librizzi, the tax assessor to Verona and several other towns, said “Mr. Martin is one of the best town managers I have ever worked for. He has told me to be fair and equitable, and he has provided the resources to do that.”
Support for the contract renewal came from other quarters as well. Two members of the board of Claridge II spoke on Martin’s behalf. The condominium association had circulated a letter to residents in the most recent Council election in favor of then incumbents Bob Manley and Jay Sniatkowski, and challenger Rich Williamson. (Williamson spoke in favor of Martin at the Council meeting.) Paul Grimes, a resident of Arnold Way, said that people have told him how complicated government is in dealings with Essex County and the state. “They’ve told me that nobody has guided them more carefully and put in more hours than Joe Martin.”
Cyndi Hawkins, a former assistant pool manager and a lifelong resident, said of Martin, “I see his job as a thankless job and most people don’t have a clue how demanding it is.” Hawkins, the former director of the nursery school at First Presbyterian Church, drew on her experience there to frame a critique of the events that have surrounded the contract renewal, saying “some of the boys in the Council sandbox don’t like to play nicely.”
Last week, Councilman Michael Nochimson filed a criminal complaint against Martin, alleging that the Town Manager called him late at night and made remarks that he perceived as threatening. Nochimson said that he attempted to secure an apology from Martin for several weeks before filing a police report.
It was because of that event that several speakers urged the Council to postpone a vote on Martin’s contract. “I don’t know how to make this decision without dealing with the situation at hand,” said Rick Petrino, a Crilley Court resident. “People lose their jobs every day for making threats in the workplace. We can’t let this slide.” Added Steve Johnson of Elmwood Road, “Why on earth are we rushing through resolution 92? Why do you seem to keep treating Mr. Martin like your daddy or your boss? He is your employee.”
Alex Roman, who was an unsuccessful challenger in the most recent Town Council election, noted that he was yelled at in his first meeting with Martin. “Demeanor and decorum matter,” said Roman, “especially in a public forum.” Roman asked that the Council enforce good manners in future meetings. “People should feel comfortable coming here to challenge the government,” Roman added.
Harriet Miller, a 40-year resident of Stocker Road, recalled her efforts to talk with Martin after a long power outage in her area. “He was totally uninterested in anything I had to say,” she said. Miller noted that she was “strongly opposed” to any rehiring of Martin, saying that his actions “constitute insubordination”.
The public debated the issue back and forth for an hour and then it was up to the Council to weigh in. Mayor Manley, Deputy Mayor Sniatkowski and former Mayor Frank Sapienza came out in support of the new contract. “My decision tonight is based solely and unequivocally on Mr. Martin’s job performance,” Manley said. Last week, he termed Martin’s call to Nochimson “inappropriate”, but said he felt Martin had apologized for his actions. Sniatkowski said that the Council had intended to bring the contract to a vote in July for some time and added that, if the new contract were not approved, the old contract would remain in force. “My job up here is to employ the best town manager we possibly can,” Sniatkowski said.
“It is very heartening to see Joe’s work staff out endorsing him,” Councilman Kevin Ryan said as he asked the Council to delay the vote. While generally supportive of Martin’s performance as town manager, Ryan questioned his conduct in other areas. “I don’t want to be the next member of the Council getting a 9 o’clock call,” he added. “You have to be able to request information without offending the manager’s sensibilities.” Ryan voted No when the roll was called. Because of the criminal complaint, Nochimson could not participate in the vote.
Town Hall photo copyright Fred Goode. Used by permission.