Several posed questions went unanswered Tuesday night at the Galloway Township Council’s meeting, but about the only certain thing is that Jodie Smith’s position was eliminated.
Whether that means her employment with the township is terminated or even what her position was both remain unclear.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of eliminating Smith’s position from the Construction Department. The lone dissenting vote was given by Councilwoman Whitney Ullman, while Councilman Dennis Kleiner abstained and Councilman Tom Bassford was absent from the meeting.
“I do feel that Jodie had compelling arguments and I can’t say yes because I don’t feel comfortable with the future. I don’t feel there’s been enough planning for it,” Ullman said before delivering her no vote.
It was unclear who would take over the position, as Acting Township Manager Steve Bonanni indicated three different people may split the position.
Mayor Keith Hartman believes the elimination of the position will save the township between $60,000 and $70,000.
In discussion leading up to the vote, the council referred to the position as land use administrator, while Smith called herself the zoning officer in open discussion concerning her position.
“You can’t divide my duties; there legally has to be one person that acts as the administrator,” Smith said. “There has to be a zoning officer. You can’t have it be this person this day, and then this person the next day.”
Bonanni indicated that the other three members of the department would split the duties of Smith’s now former position, but according to Smith, only one person in the department is qualified to fulfill her role. The other two employees in the department are part-time, and are only there two days a week.
“You need a college degree and four years of experience,” Smith said. “(The township planner) has that. The other two don’t. Will (the planner’s) hours be increased?”
Discussion of a replacement could go no further because the other members of the department were not issued a Rice Notice.
A Rice Notice is issued to inform employees if their job will be discussed to give that employee a chance to request the discussion be held in closed session. In this case, Smith was the only one issued a Rice Notice, and she requested the discussion take place in open session.
The vote was the result of a financial analysis conducted by Bonanni. The analysis found that 372 zoning permits were issued in 2005, with that number steadily declining down to 28 last year.
In 2005, 16,050 construction permits were issued. That number also declined, plummeting to 1,156 in 2010. Bonanni drew the conclusion from the analysis that the position was expendable. The vote indicated a majority of the members that voted felt the same way.
“She’s been a very good employee, but it’s hard not to look in that department,” said Jim Gorman, the lone Democrat on the council. “It’s not a party issue. If things improve, I would have no problem bringing her back, but right now, this has to be done.”
“I found Jodie to be efficient and knowledgeable,” Councilman Tony Coppola said. “We needed proof that this is what we need, but zoning permits and construction permits are down. It’s obvious we need to do something. This is not something we take lightly.”
Nine professional associates spoke publicly in defense of Smith. All stated the township would lose knowledge with Smith removed from her position. One Realtor pointed out that if a proposal is not answered by the zoning officer in 10 days, it is automatically approved.
“I’m not sure if you realize that,” she said.
“There is no question services will be reduced,” Bonanni said. “People might have to wait three or four days. I don’t believe anyone will have to wait 10 days. But those answers won’t come right away. Jodie Smith is very knowledgeable about zoning, but the other three know about it too.
“They know bits and pieces. It will still run, but services will be reduced.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Don Purdy wanted to clarify that this was a position being eliminated, not a person.
“We are not targeting anyone,” Purdy said. “ … Every department has shrunk. We’re not proud of it.
“I know we rely on her. We used to have 80 police officers, and now we have 52. Employees have off on Mondays. We’re not picking up leaves, we’re not picking up twigs. We are at the bare bones, and we still have a $1.7 million debt. … I don’t like when someone loses their job.”
Another resident asked if Smith was offered a reduced workweek, while one more resident summed up the uncertainty of the whole situation.
“You’re eliminating her position, but her employment is not being terminated?” he asked.
“It is being reviewed by labor counsel,” Township Solicitor Michael Blee said.
“So it’s unresolved? I think that needs to be made clear, because I don’t think that’s clear to the public.”