The Verona Town Council held a special meeting tonight to accept the resignation of Town Manager Joseph Martin and name Mitchell Stern, a captain in the Verona Police Department, to be the interim manager.
Martin’s resignation is effective at the close of business on Friday, July 17.
“I am appreciative of Mr. Martin’s 12 years of service to the town,” said Mayor Kevin Ryan in announcing the resignation. “Both he and the majority of the Town Council felt it was time for a change.”
Stern will take over as interim town manager on July 18 and serve for no longer than 60 days, during which time the Council will search for a permanent replacement for Martin. Both Ryan and Alex Roman, a newly elected Council member, indicated that they thought that Verona would have no problem attracting qualified candidates for town manager. Verona is a so-called Faulkner Act town, which means that we have a Town Council and a paid town manager; the arrangement has been likened to a corporation with a CEO and a board of directors.
Ryan, Roman and Deputy Mayor Michael Nochimson praised Stern for his willingness to serve as interim manager. “We are fortunate to have someone of Mr. Stern’s experience and capability,” Ryan said.
Stern is 45-year resident of Verona and a 30-year member of the Police Department. He has a master’s in public administration from Rutger’s University and an advanced executive education certificate in state and local government leadership from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Stern is also a certified public manager and is the current president of the Certified Public Manager’s Society of New Jersey.
Martin was not present at tonight’s meeting. Council members Bob Manley and Jay Sniatkowski were also not present. Reached by text message, Manley and Sniatkowski indicated that they would reserve comment on the change for the next regularly scheduled Town Council meeting.
Martin built an early career in public service as a reformer. He was part of the team assembled by Peter Shapiro in the late 1970s to create the office of Essex County Executive and streamline county agencies. Coming to Verona, Martin reduced town government headcount, achieved a strong bond rating for the town and, more recently helped to negotiated a new contract with the Police Department that could cut the cost of policing in Verona in the future.
But Martin had come under fire in recent years for increasing taxes as Verona struggled through the recession. Often short-tempered with public questions at Council meetings, Martin has been at the center of two high-profile disagreements. In September 2013, he agreed to mediation on a criminal complaint filed by Nochimson after Martin made a late-night phone call to Nochimson that the councilman felt was intimidating. Verona PBA Local 72 filed a complaint against the town in July 2014 over problems with Police Department technology, and alleged that Martin threatened the police officers who brought the complaint. That matter remains unresolved.
At Monday’s meeting, the Council referred a draft ordinance on development on steep slope areas in Verona to the Planning Board for review. Ryan noted that Verona’s Master Plan, adopted in 2009, makes numerous references to steep slopes, but never defined the term. Ryan said that Verona need a definition to be in compliance and that we are one of the last towns in Essex County to be without a steep slope ordinance.
The Council also approved the naming of former Council members Frank Sapienza and Santi Condorelli to the Public Safety Committee for two-year terms ending in 2017. “We are fortunate to have two former council people who are still looking to serve the community,” Ryan said.
UPDATE: Councilman Jay Sniatkowski called us back on Tuesday. “To lose someone like Joe is a big hit,” he said, recalling that Verona had gone through two interim managers before finding Martin 12 years ago. “He was ahead of the curve. Verona is better today than before he arrived.”