ORANGE, NJ — Orange South Ward Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson told the crowd of approximately 25 residents at her Community Meeting in the Heywood Avenue Elementary School auditorium on Thursday, Jan. 19, that questions about the ongoing FBI probe into alleged fiscal abuses by Willis Edwards, the city’s former acting business administrator, and Tyshammie Cooper, East Orange 4th Ward councilwoman, would not be answered, people still asked questions. And as it turned out, it didn’t stop Summers-Johnson or Chris Hartwyk, the city’s new business administrator, from answering the questions.
Regarding Hartwyk, Summers-Johnson said, “Since we have taken him in as our (business administrator), we have received a lot of information; efficient information and he gives us the answers. That’s why I ask him to come to these meetings because, at a council meeting, you can’t get the answers immediately and that’s why I have these community meetings to bring the government to you,” she said at the meeting.
“He is very good at what he does and he is my go-to guy. And he does give us a lot of the answers that we need. I said in the beginning of the meeting that we can’t really go into detail about what was in the newspapers and media but, once all of that clears, the people that did whatever they did that wasn’t up to par will be handled.”
“That’s what the council is supposed to do” and “a lot of the things that were in the paper is a result of things or questions that council brought to their attention. It is my hope that we get it together,” but “it’s not going to happen overnight.” She added that having Hartwyk in his role for the past six months has been a good start to fixing what was previously wrong in Orange city government.
“Believe very little of what you read and less of what you hear; 99 percent of the people that I’ve come in contact with in the city and work for the city since I’ve been here are good, honest, decent, hardworking people who want to do a good job and get paid fair wages, and they do a good job — they come to work every day and they do their jobs,” Hartwyk said at the meeting.
“To talk directly to the investigation as obliquely as I can without violating the directives of the city attorney; it’s an investigation — there are no charges filed, no one’s been arrested and there have been no findings of wrongdoing. Now that said, there are a lot of things that I’ve come across since I’ve been here that I’ve decided to change and I’ve had the full support of the mayor and the City Council to implement those changes.”
In an attempt to run the administration more efficiently, Hartwyk criticized the use of hand checks by Orange government.
“We used to issue a lot of hand checks that are issued outside of the ordinary bill payment process,” said Hartwyk on Monday, Jan. 23, apparently referring to handwritten checks. “I instituted a policy (that) there will be no more hand checks issued without three signatures and a written explanation for why the hand check must be issued outside of the ordinary bill payment process. People come into my office routinely with requests for hand checks. I had one today to pay a refund on a tax bill that a court issued in July, and I said, ‘Why wasn’t this put on the Bill List.’ And a hand check was not issued because that is the way that municipal government is supposed to work.”
Hartwyk said he also encountered issues with the city’s grant writing processes during the past six months.
“I will tell you that we have written and submitted a grant-compliance program to the county and the state authorities,” Hartwyk said at the meeting. “It was one of the first undertakings I took in August because if you followed the investigation the first subpoena or search warrant that was issued or the subpoena for documents, (it) was related to grants. So I immediately looked at all the grants. I looked at the grant program and how we were setting up our compliance with those state and federal guidelines, because every one of those grants comes with rules and regulations and, when you violate those rules and regulations, you jeopardize future funding for the city through those grant programs. So we wrote a grant-compliance program, we submitted it and it’s been approved.”