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By: Chris Sykes - Staff Writer
ORANGE — The administration of Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren tried to get Orange City Council to vote to approve a number of walk-on items to the agenda of their meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2, including a contract for $35,000 that would pay for services that have already been rendered by Anthony Salters, the mayor’s spokesman.
But instead of acquiescing to the desire of Warren and his deputy business administrator, Willis Edwards, to pay the bills, including a resolution for a contract with Salters’ public relations company, based in Hillside, the council decided to pull the walk-ons for further review.
“Until the council goes through his contract and we are ensured that there is no duplication in what his contract calls for and what anyone else might be doing in City Hall, then the contract won’t be approved,” said At Large Councilman Elroy Corbitt on Tuesday, Jan. 8. “That’s just business. It’s nothing personal.”
A “walk-on” is a piece of legislative business from the administrative branch, the mayor and the city that is not included on the regular agenda for a particular City Council meeting that the members are given in advance of that meeting. Since the piece of business, whatever it might be, was not included in the packet of information the council gets from the city clerk days before a meeting, it has to be added to the agenda on the day of the meeting.
Hence, it is said to have been “walked-on” to the agenda. The only problem with walk-on items is that, because they are introduced to the council for their consideration by the administration at the very last minute, they do not have the time to exercise their due diligence and review it properly before being asked to vote on it.
But just because the administration is asking council to vote on a walk-on doesn’t mean council has to do so. Former City Council President William “Bill” Lewis said he was at that meeting and he and many others who were also in attendance are glad council decided not to do what the administration wanted them to do.
“This person is on the payroll, but in what position is her serving in?” asked Lewis in regard to Salters’ status and salary. “He’s an employee of his own company. In what budget does he appear? What are you attempting to skirt by hiding him under this contract?”
Lewis said there were too many questions regarding Salters, as well as other items the administration wanted council to act on for them to legitimately vote on in any good conscience.
“On the bill list at the meeting before the last one, I raised the question that they are over budget,” Lewis said on Sunday, Jan. 6. “Jeff Feld has been raising the same questions for some time now, too. So they pulled everything off the agenda at that meeting that had to do with money.”
Lewis was referring to the special council meetings that took place on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. Janice Morrell, a former Zoning Board member and mayoral candidate in last year’s citywide election, said he was absolutely right to ask for the reports about budget and the state of the city’s finances that council is allowed by law to get from the administration.
“The reports that the council received are the monthly reports and, so far, they’ve only received one for October or November, but the reports they got did not contain the year-to-date totals,” Morrell said on Tuesday, Jan. 8. “When you put them all together, they show that the administration was on the verge of running out of money last September. The council mentioned that, statutorily, they are entitled to those reports and they need those reports to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.”
Even though she said she knows it is a mistake, Morrell said she “assumes” the administration is “running” the reports council wants and needs, but she can’t be sure.
“I can’t see the (chief financial officer) and the (business administrator) not running those reports every month,” Morrell said. “Every so often, you incur a 27th pay period in municipal government. In 2010, there were 27 pay periods and it was reported to the Hawkins administration more than six months before he went out of office. You have money that’s spent and you have a paper trail, but this wasn’t resolved in the paper trail.”
Because of faulty filing practices such as that, Morrell said, walk-ons should be discouraged.
“All of this walk-on legislation simply just should not occur,” Morrell said on Tuesday, Jan. 8. “Most of the things that come up are routine, so there should not be a surprises and it should be on the agenda with a backup. When you walk-on items like that, it guarantees that the citizenry are at a disadvantage, because they don’t have an opportunity to know about it. So you cut out that third leg of governance.”
Morrell said all council needs to do to stop walk-ons is to exercise the procedural powers they already have.
“The council can reject walk-ons because someone has to make a motion to add them to the agenda, somebody else has to second it and then they have to vote to accept it,” Morrell said.
“They have rejected walk-ons in the past because they met on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 and each time the resolution was changed because they reduced the amount in the resolution four times. In one resolution, they cited three different amounts and then wanted to walk-on a different one. Then, at the Dec. 24 session, they wanted to walk-on an item and there were only five members at that meeting and South Ward Councilman Ed Marble said that he would not vote on it.
“This thing was played worse than the Keystone Cops and the council was right to delay the vote on it. At the Dec. 31 meeting, they had to delay the vote on the resolution because they had to wait and you’re telling me that, if you knew what you had to do on Dec. 24, that you couldn’t do the math by Dec. 31?
“The council was right in that they should not have considered anything without getting an accurate count on what monies were needed. But, more importantly, they were sitting up there, making decisions, without that monthly financial report that they need.”