Orange Council tables three proposed positions

ORANGE, NJ — The Orange City Council unanimously tabled three proposed resolutions from Mayor Dwayne Warren’s administration at its regular meeting Tuesday, June 7, which would have added the positions of chief of staff, deputy business administrator and aide to the mayor to the city’s table of organization in the Municipal Code Book.

“Yes it’s true,” confirmed Orange City Council President April Gaunt-Butler on Monday, June 13. “Resolution 35-2016 was for the chief of staff; Resolution 36-2016 was for aide to the mayor; and Resolution 37-2016 was for deputy business administrator. They were all tabled.”

According to Orange City Clerk Joyce Lanier, only City Council Vice President Elroy Corbitt was absent from the meeting.

Gaunt-Butler said she was surprised by the lack of opposition from her council colleagues.

“I thought we were going to have robust discussion on the resolutions,” said Gaunt-Butler. “But that didn’t happen. It was motioned to be put to a vote, the motion was seconded, and it was tabled. There was no discussion.”

The positions have been a source of controversy for some time in Orange. Superior Court Judge Christine Farrington ruled Feb. 18, that Willis Edwards would have to pay back to the township the $268,750 he was paid while working as the city’s deputy business administrator. Edwards also served as Warren’s chief of staff; both are positions the mayor tried to add to the city’s staff with last week’s resolutions.

“At issue is not a contract, but an appointment subject to the advice and consent of the City Council,” said Farrington in her 29-page ruling on the case. “It is important to consider the purposes of the requirement of advice and consent, which is to limit the mayor’s unilateral appointment power and constitute a structural safeguard, based upon the separation of powers. The court finds the violations were intentional on the part of both Mayor Warren and Edwards. … All remuneration received by defendant for the position of deputy or assistant business administrator must be repaid to the city of Orange Township within 90 days of the date of this opinion.”

Back in February, Farrington questioned why the council only wanted to fight Warren and Edwards on the deputy business administrator’s position, when the position of chief of staff was also in violation of Orange City Code.

“During trial, city of Orange Township Municipal Clerk Joyce Lanier testified that she is a registered municipal clerk, and researched city of Orange Township records and determined that the position of deputy or assistant business administrator was created in 1985 and subsequently abolished,” Farrington said, adding, “She further testified that her research found no evidence that the position of chief of staff had ever been created in the city of Orange Township. Despite her findings, she confirmed that, prior to Edwards, there had been a person in the chief of staff position and there was, at the time of trial, a person in the position of chief of staff. She testified the salary of the current person had also not been approved by City Council.”

According to Orange Township employment information Lanier has recently provided to the Record-Transcript, Cooper has been serving as the chief of staff, and is earning $104,999.96. Cooper is also a member of the East Orange City Council, representing the 4th Ward, earning an additional $45,990 in that position.

The Record-Transcript filed an OPRA request asking Lanier for a complete list of city of Orange Township employees hired since Warren took office in 2012 and their corresponding job titles and salaries. A partial list was provided after the May 10 municipal election.

According to Farrington’s ruling, “As (Lanier) testified, which testimony is unrefuted, the position of chief of staff has never been created as required by ordinance. The fact that other persons are alleged to have held the position, both before and after Edwards, does not validate the Edwards appointment. It merely demonstrates to the court that the city of Orange Township has, over time, failed to follow the Faulkner Act and its own municipal code.”

Farrington’s ruling should have brought an end to the saga of Edwards’ employment by the Warren administration, but attorney Robert Tarver, who represented the Orange City Council against Warren and Edwards, said the resolutions seeking to legitimize job titles and positions that currently do not exist in the table of organization are a new salvo in the war, and come from the administration itself.

“Those resolutions could not have come from the council members,” Tarver told the Record-Transcript on Monday, June 13. “Judge Farrington already ruled that you can’t appoint a deputy (business administrator), unless you already have a regular, full-time business administrator to do the appointing. There’s no willingness among the current council members to create those new job titles and positions with their corresponding salaries and benefits packages by statutory means.”

According to the Warren administration, Edwards is appealing Farrington’s decision.

The organization of the City Council will change July 1, when East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley, West Ward Councilman Harold J. Johnson, Councilwoman at Large Donna K. Williams and newcomers Christopher Jackson and Adrienne Wooten are sworn in. Incumbents Tency Eason and Jamie Summers-Johnson, of the North and South Wards respectively, will round out the seven-member council.

Although Eason and Summers-Johnson have sided with the mayor in the past on many issues, the mayor’s support on council will be in a minority. But some things remain the same in Orange administration.

“Marty Mayes is still the current acting business administrator,” said Gant-Butler. “We are still adhering to Judge Farrington’s judgment. That has not changed.”

Requests to the Warren administration for comment about resolutions 35-2016, 36-2016 and 37-2016 were not responded to by press time this week.