Summersgill, Lembrich butt heads over township policy

Mike Summersgill

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood Township Committee candidate Mike Summersgill believes his recent removal from the Maplewood Pool Advisory Committee directly relates to his run for office, a claim contradictory to the Township Committee’s stated reason.

Prior to voting 4-0 for Summersgill’s removal from the pool committee at its May 2 meeting, the Township Committee stressed that it was acting to address the fact that Summersgill was in violation of a resolution mandating that residents can serve on only one volunteer committee at a time. The Republican candidate was a member of both the pool committee and the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee.

But Summersgill believes there is more to his dismissal than that, pointing out that fellow 2017 election candidate Mayor Vic DeLuca’s abstaining from the vote indicates that the decision was politically motivated. On top of that, he said the committee could have taken other, less harsh measures to resolve the situation.

“It just seemed like kind of a needless action,” Summersgill told the News-Record in a May 11 phone interview. “They could have just let my term at the senior committee expire at the end of the year and not reappoint me. That definitely would’ve been an option.”

The situation arose after the Township Committee appointed Summersgill to the senior citizen committee upon its creation in February. At the time, the candidate said no one ever told him that he would have to resign from the pool committee if he accepted the post. It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble if the Township Committee had done so, he said, because he could have decided whether to resign from the pool committee before accepting a spot on the senior committee.

Yet Committeeman Greg Lembrich, the Township Committee’s liaison to the pool committee who made the motion to remove Summersgill, told the News-Record that everyone who expressed interest in the senior committee was told they would have to give up any position they held on other committees if they joined the senior committee. So when Summersgill was chosen, Lembrich said the Township Committee members assumed he would step down from the pool committee. That proved not to be the case, though.

Summersgill recalled that he was informed by the pool committee that he was no longer a member, which took him by surprise. He said he followed up with Lembrich, who told him that it was Maplewood’s longstanding policy not to allow people to serve on more than volunteer committee. Summersgill then asked whether that policy was ever codified, and when Lembrich acknowledged there was no such official rule, Summersgill told him that he intended to serve on both committees simultaneously.

Lembrich agreed with that sequence of events, remarking that it struck him Summersgill was “needlessly trying to provoke some kind of showdown.” In response, he said the Township Committee agreed to formalize the one appointment per resident policy at its March 7 meeting. It unanimously approved the resolution on March 21.

“Thus, despite the fact that literally no one else in Maplewood serves as a member of more than one committee, the Township Committee needed to pass a resolution formalizing the policy because Mike Summersgill thought he was special,” Lembrich said in a May 11 email.

According to Lembrich, township clerk Liz Fritzen sent a letter to Summersgill on March 9 telling him of the Township Committee’s intention to codify the policy and asking him from which of his two appointments he wanted to resign. He did not respond, the committeeman said, nor did he acknowledge the email Lembrich himself sent in advance of the March 21 meeting reminding him that the resolution would be voted on soon. After the resolution was approved, he said he sent Summersgill a further email on April 3 asking him to choose what committee he wanted to leave. When this email did not get a response from Summersgill after roughly one month, Lembrich said the Township Committee decided it needed to remove him from the pool committee.

Summersgill agreed that he does not think he ever told the Township Committee which position he would prefer to resign from, though he said Lembrich did tell him at one point that he would be removed from the senior committee if he did not choose. Lembrich acknowledged that the Township Committee originally was thinking about removing Summersgill from the seniors committee since that was the more recent appointment. But, after further discussion, he said it decided to remove him from the pool committee instead, since that was the group it had originally thought he was going to quit.

Regardless, he said he does not understand why he needed to pick one at all, pointing out that there is no scheduling conflict that would have prevented him from serving on both committees. The candidate also questioned whether a one appointment per resident policy was in the best interests of Maplewood.

“For me, it’s not the number of committees you serve but the amount of engagement,” Summersgill said, adding that people have served on multiple committees at a time in years past. “If we can find people who are motivated, have the skillsets that we need, bring a different view than maybe what’s already represented on the committee — those are the things that I think are important in determining committee membership. I don’t know if we’re well-served if you have someone on the committee whose only on (that one) committee and has poor attendance.”

For Lembrich, the value of the policy comes from preventing conflicts of interest that could result from serving on two committees simultaneously. The committeeman also explained that the resolution allows for more residents to get involved with the township than if one resident could hold multiple committee posts.

Lembrich additionally denied that Summersgill’s removal had anything to do with politics. Rather, he said it was a matter of fairness because making an exception for Summersgill would lead to other residents demanding exceptions for themselves. It also would not be right to let the candidate keep both positions when many other residents interested in the senior citizen committee did not pursue it specifically because they knew they would have to resign from committees on which they were serving.

On top of that, Lembrich said the Township Committee would never have appointed Summersgill to the senior committee in the first place if it were concerned about politics. In fact, he said there were many other worthy residents it could have chosen instead.

“The fact that we appointed him to the seniors committee after he had run for office last year and announced soon thereafter that he planned to run again this year, belies any allegation that the Township Committee is treating him differently due to political motivations,” Lembrich said. “If anything, it is Mike who appears to be trying to leverage his candidacy to be exempted from the one committee per resident policy that applies to everyone else. The fact that he is running for office does not entitle him to special treatment.”

As for what will happen next, Lembrich said he would be willing to reappoint Summersgill to the pool committee if the candidate resigns — or at least commits to resigning in writing — from the senior committee. The Township Committee likely will not fill his position until this summer, the committeeman said, so he has some time to make his intentions known before being replaced.

Of course, Summersgill said he would serve on both committees if he had his way since they each do great work. During his time with them, he said the pool committee revised its standards for its concession vendor and the senior committee devised a rating system for seniors to see how strenuous a town event will be. But if he had to pick, he said it would make more sense to rejoin the pool committee since that body votes on actions while the senior committee is mainly meant to generate ideas. He said he would also like to continue advocating for the installation of family bathrooms at the pool so parents could help children of a different gender change into their bathing suits.

Right now, however, Summersgill said he has not decided what his next step will be. He said he first wants to figure out how he can best impact both committees. And if he is going to resign, he said he will need someone with “more credibility” than Lembrich to guarantee that he will be reappointed to the pool committee since the committeeman already reneged on his promise to remove Summersgill from the senior committee instead of the pool committee.

DeLuca did not respond to request for comment before press time May 16.

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