Residents Show Support, Voice Criticism of Township Manager at Final Meeting Before Retirement
Steve Bonanni's retirement is effective Jan. 31.
Galloway Township residents packed the courtroom at the municipal complex for the township council meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 24, and Mayor Don Purdy was happy to see it.
“I wish this many people came out for every council meeting,” Purdy said.
Ten township employees were honored for no less than 10 years of service a piece, and their families packed the room, as they do for every meeting for which an employee is honored. However, this time, when Purdy offered those in attendance the opportunity to leave after their loved ones were honored, everyone remained seated.
There were other issues that grabbed their attention.
Council discussed various policy changes, including make changes to township statute over compensatory time.
One of the 10 employees honored, one with 33 years of service and the man serving as township manager, also retired.
On the night in which Steve Bonanni was to be honored by the township for his years of service, in addition to his Year in Review summary, his name became synonymous with the issue of comp time. Bonanni’s retirement becomes effective Jan. 31. It was unclear what would happen if a new township manager was not in place by that time, although Purdy indicated there would be a go-to person.
“It’s never good to have a ship without a captain,” Purdy said.
Bonanni is also the Director of Public Works.
Township Solicitor Michael Blee opened the evening by discussing the comp time issue, reiterating his interpretation that nothing illegal took place when Bonanni approved comp time for Chief Financial Officer Marilyn Dolcy and Township Clerk Kimberly Hodsdon, both of whom have since withdrawn their requests for the comp time.
As previously reported, Chapter 73-5 of the township code states, “all employees, other than department or office heads, are entitled to overtime compensation within budget limitations and as approved by the Township Manager,” and “compensatory time off for all employees, including department and/or office heads, may be given at 1 1/2 hours for each hour worked as overtime, at the discretion of the Township Manager, upon recommendation of the department head. Said compensatory time off should not exceed 35 hours for white-collar employees and 40 hours for blue-collar employees, nor be carried into another year, unless recommended by the department head and authorized by the Township Manager.”
The final part of this statute is what previously helped Blee make his determination that nothing illegal took place.
He did recommend the provision, in place since 1980, be re-evaluated.
“Times have changed and you have the legislative power to change the provision,” Blee told council on Tuesday night. “It’s more complicated than just repealing the law, so my suggestion is that you send it to sub-committee.”
Council was in agreement that the statute needs to be evaluated and altered.
Other policies concerning social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as township-issued cell phones for all employees are also under evaluation.
“The codebook is outdated and fixing it will be a long process,” Purdy said. “It won’t happen over night, but (fixing) comp time will happen over night.”
“The problem is systematic,” Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola said. “The codebook needs to be updated to reflect our current situation. My understanding is that this stuff goes on in other towns, too, but I don’t care what happens in other towns. This is not unique to Galloway, but this is our town and it needs to be remedied.”
Hodsdon and Dolcy both became township employees on Oct. 4.
Hodsdon, who makes $64,429 a year, put in for 39.5 hours of comp time from her date of hire through the end of last year, according to payroll records obtained and published by gallowaytwpnews.com publisher Harry Scheeler. Dolcy, who makes $105,000 a year, put in for nearly 60 hours through Dec. 16, according to the records. They were seeking compensation for missed lunches and working council meetings.
Township residents expressed anger over the situation Tuesday night, as multiple residents spoke during the public comment period about what it means to be a “salaried” employee.
“They should never have been paid to come to council meetings because that’s part of their duties,” said resident Anna Jezycki, who also said blame should be placed on the individuals who placed Bonanni in the situation to begin with. “ … It’s not right when you’re asking some employees to take furloughs and other employees are getting time and a half. I hope it does get cleared up.”
Another resident voiced concern about the image of the township he has called home his whole life.
“People are laughing at Galloway Township, and tomorrow when you wake up and read the paper, it’s going to be the same old thing,” he said. “What steps are being taken to clean up this mess?”
He also voiced concern over the council’s record of hiring “white collar employees,” including the previous township manager who didn’t meet the qualifications to hold the position.Bonanni took over as manager on Jan. 25, 2011.
The resident also referenced the ongoing issues with the position of township clerk.
Purdy stated outside professionals will be consulted as the township begins its search for a new township manager.
“We are going to look for someone who has government experience and a background in government,” Purdy said following the meeting. “We’ve made mistakes in the past, but part of making a mistake is how you deal with it.
“Steve was the acting township manager. He helped us get through hard times.”
Bonanni read off a list of positive things that took place in the township over the last year as part of his Year in Review statement. The list included labor negotiations, notably bringing township employees back to work five days a week after being furloughed on Mondays the previous year, as well as other accomplishments that began with the residents, including the painting of a double line on Duerer Street.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Galloway Democratic Chair Michael Suleiman said he would like to have seen more transparency when it came to this statement.
"Township Manager Bonanni outlined his year-end report to Council without a copy being made available online for residents to read. Literature like this should be available online as well as full videos of council meetings," Suleiman said. "Councilwoman Ullman was supposed to spear-head a revamping of the township website which has failed to happen."
Each member of council thanked Bonanni, as well as the various employees, for their service to the township on Tuesday night.
“Steve has a love for Galloway that is unchallenged,” Coppola said. “He stepped in knowing the scrutiny he would face, and he always stood up for the people.”
“I want to thank Steve for guiding me through the first couple of months (of my term),” said Councilman Brian Tyrrell, who was elected Nov. 8. “I wish you the best.”
“When we needed you, you were ready to leave, but you didn’t hesitate,” Councilman Dennis Kleiner said. “You got us going back in the right direction.”
On Jan. 10, the 57-year-old Bonanni announced his retirement, reiterating it had always been his intent to retire at the age of 55.
“When we were hard up, we didn’t have to ask you twice,” Purdy said. “We asked you to put your family aside again. I apologize for putting you in this situation. You paid the price.”
Bonanni came under fire during his tenure as township manager. He suspended former Township Clerk Lisa Tilton in June, a suspension that led to an eventual agreement between Tilton and the township for Tilton’s resignation.
Tilton has claimed that the township has since violated that agreement and has filed two separate tort claim notices against the township, including one based on various counts of invasion of privacy, slander and libel, in which members of council and Bonanni were named.
He has also been the subject of numerous inquiries from Scheeler over the past few months. In addition to the comp time issue, the state determined based on investigations by Scheeler that Bonanni improperly appointed Karen Bacon Acting Township Clerk from June 13 to Oct. 4 of last year, and he took issue with Bonanni's use of a township cell phone to make personal calls. Bonanni has since began using a personal cell phone.
Scheeler also discovered that current Township Clerk Kimberley Hodsdon had never been sworn in. She has since been sworn in.
Bonanni has stated none of these things factored into his decision to retire at this time.
Those who turned out for Tuesday night’s meeting had varying opinions, and some of them voiced their opposing opinions while other residents were speaking during the public comment portion.
“I would ask that during council meetings, which can get heated, that we retain civility," Suleiman said as part of his statement. "Tonight's meeting featured back-and-forth bickering with members of the audience heckling some of those that spoke. Democrats, Republicans, and Independent need to come together for the best of Galloway."
During the meeting, Deputy Director of Public Works Division of Community Services Beth Stasuk came to Bonanni’s defense during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
“We are going to have a retirement party for this man,” Stasuk said of Bonanni. “And we’re going to thank this man for 33 years of service to the township.”