TC terminates DPW director’s employment with cause

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The township is currently searching for a new Public Works director, after the Township Committee voted unanimously at its Jan. 7 meeting to terminate with cause the employment of former DPW Director Calvin Bell.

Bell was issued a Rice Notice on Jan. 3, which notified him that his employment would be discussed at the Jan. 7 Township Committee meeting; Bell requested that the discussion take place during the regular meeting as opposed to during executive session, so that he or a representative would have the opportunity to speak.

According to Maplewood Business Administrator Sonia Alves-Viveiros, the township had experienced multiple problems with Bell, finally culminating in this discussion to dismiss him.

“Beginning in June of 2018 as I took on the role as Maplewood’s business administrator, I was tasked to review operations for all township departments, as you know. As I reviewed operations specifically within each department, specifically Public Works, there were issues relating to reporting of incidents, hiring of staff and morale within the department,” Viveiros said at the meeting. According to Viveiros, she worked with Bell to complete a culture study and institute employee-related training, yet there were still instances in which employees failed to report to work, and approximately 20 grievances were filed for improper distribution of overtime.

“Moreover, there was an incident related to the safety of employees that was not reported to the proper chain of command, which resulted in various disciplinary actions, one including to the director. Additionally, following the failure to report the incident, there was again failure to report to meetings that required DPW representation and information from the director. These failures to appear were addressed on various occasions throughout 2019. Issues of abuse of time were also brought to Mr. Bell’s attention,” she continued. “A second suspension was served as a result of the abuse of time and insubordination.”

The most recent issue — the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back — was when Viveiros received an email from an employee at Giordano Recycling, the vendor that markets Maplewood’s recycled materials.

“She advised me that they would no longer be accepting our recycling as of Friday, Jan. 3, because the township owed them approximately $57,000 and were past due 90 days,” Viveiros said, explaining that it was Bell’s responsibility to submit this payment. “I took immediate action by calling the vendor and working with finance staff to figure out a way to process payment. Because I was able to speak to the vendor and provide assurance that they get paid, services were resumed.”

According to Viveiros, when she met with Bell on Jan. 7, he could not give her adequate explanations for why invoices hadn’t been paid.

“I asked Mr. Bell why invoices were not paid and he stated that he did not know and did not provide any justification or explanation for his failure to ensure payment,” Viveiros said. “As a follow up, when I called the vendor to rectify this issue, they stated that all of our invoices were sent to the director and the assistant to the DPW director.”

This was not the first time a vendor had cut off service to the township due to unpaid invoices, according to Viveiros. She explained that during the summer, a landscaping company also stopped service due to an outstanding bill, at which point she “put Mr. Bell on notice about the nonpayment issue but received no explanation then.” She said similar issues have been reported from the vendor who purchases biodiesel fuel for the township.

“These services are vital to the township and its residents. The jitney service depends upon the fuel, and recycling has to be taken to a facility for processing. The issue of nonpayment to various vendors, and given that there was no justification, I am recommending that the township consider terminating Mr. Bell’s employment,” Viveiros said. “In addition, the issues related to Mr. Bell’s conduct, related to insubordination, and neglect of duties are at a point where operations have been and are compromised. Furthermore, I recommend that we place an advertisement to seek a replacement as soon as possible.”

Bell’s attorney, Eldridge Hawkins Sr., then addressed the Township Committee, criticizing the way Viveiros had handled the entire proceedings. Chiefly, he said it seemed as if Viveiros had sent Bell the Rice Notice before she had uncovered the alleged problems she presented to the committee. Hawkins cited that fact that her statement to the committee discussed conversations had that day with Bell — four days after he had received the Rice Notice.

“It sounds to me as if she had planned on communicating a request for your body to agree to terminate my client predicated upon something she was going to have set up between the 3rd and now, because clearly she’s talking about things that happened today,” Hawkins said. “What I’d suggest very strongly is that somebody ask that young lady specifics because I listened attentively and she didn’t give specifics. She was very hard with what she said and I don’t know how this body could accept her word, except she’s a lovely young lady.”

At this point, Hawkins was interrupted by Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis who called out “Sir!” Committeewoman Nancy Adams then told Hawkins, “If you don’t mind, the name is Ms. Viveiros. As a fellow former young lady, it’s disrespectful and works against her professionalism and position in this township by calling her ‘young lady’ over and over again.”

After apologizing, Hawkins also stated that his client, upon being placed on suspension, was never given a communication saying that this was a final warning and that he faced termination upon one more incident.

“That’s in your book, as I read it. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m having a ball because everything she’s laid out is wrong,’” Hawkins said. “I’m suggesting to you folks, if you do not ask the questions of her that I know I have in my mind that I would want to have asked of me before I could just blithely go and do what she wants to do, that would be further credence to what I believe strongly was her game plan all along. Because I don’t know how she would be able to get this matter up before this board today after she never requested my client to be appointed on the last meeting when every other director was appointed. You folks, of course, just wouldn’t know that my client was the only one that was not appointed. What I’m saying is, I’m having a ball.”

After Hawkins finished speaking, the Township Committee members voted 5-0 to terminate Bell’s employment and then voted 5-0 to post an advertisement for a new DPW director.