There was an excellent editorial in The News this past week. It sums up what many of us on this forum have been droning on and on about of late.
Democrats have called the moves political cronyism, accusing Republicans of putting their allies in important government positions.
The Republicans will no doubt counter that the people they just replaced were Democratic “cronies,” put in office by a party that held sway in Cumberland County for more than 30 years.
The positions in question, including head of public safety and public works, are considered “at-will” posts. That means these people serve at the will of the freeholder board and can be replaced when the board sees fit.
It’s an unhealthy process and one that can lead to poor decision-making.
Sure, new leaders want the authority to change leaders when they feel change is warranted, but the lack of a concrete process for making those changes seems to be the root of the current kerfuffle.
It find it amusing, however, that the News of Cumberland County was mute when the Democrats practiced political favoritism for three decades. Apparently it is only wrong when the Republicans do it…
A person’s political affiliation should have zero impact on the decision to hire him or her. Period. There can be no valid argument made to support political cronyism. Our elected officials are given the task of making decisions to BENEFIT the 157,000 residents of Cumberland County. That means that the people that are placed in positions of authority over these departments must be the most qualified individuals that they find. And if two people apply with equal abilities, then weight must be given to the county resident. After all, our representatives are elected to work for the people of this county, not another.
But even more egregious than hiring based solely on a person’s political leaning is the retributive firing of people that are performing their duties properly. I was pissed off, to put it as politely as I can, when I read this headline last week:
Ax falls in Cumberland County: Three department heads terminated and replaced, a fourth demoted
With Democratic Freeholder Bill Whelan absent, the board split along party lines, 4-2, as the Republicans successfully terminated the employment of Office on Aging Director Dale Finch and CATS Director Theresa Van Sant, and demoted Public Works Director Don Olbrich.
Mental Health Division Head Jack Surrency was also terminated, but by a unanimous vote.
None of the Republican majority commented publicly on the series of resolutions — a rare occurrence during a work session.
The decision to fire several individuals was based solely on the fact that they were hired under the Democratic leadership. And yes, I know one position was filed as a direct reward for ousting Republican Jim Swift as Millville City Public Defender. That person is dale Finch, a close friend of mine. And as he would say, “it is what it is”. But that still doesn’t make it right.
Dale was performing his job in an exemplary manner. There were no complaints. He attended all meetings, which is more than can be said for the Republican Freeholders who have no problem skipping meetings because they obviously have better things to do with their time than serve the electorate.
As others have posted on this forum in the past, Dale might not have been the most qualified candidate for that position when he was appointed. But the fact remains that he has been doing his job proficiently, and there was absolutely no reason to fire him. Dale quickly learned the responsibilities. I have heard only good comments from those that work with him. It was wrong to release him as an act of political vengeance, and that move really irritated several people that I have spoken with in the past week.
There were two separate acts of cowardice in the meeting. One was Bill Whelan’s unexcused absence from one of the most important meetings of this elected board. The other was the total cowardice on the part of the Republicans to refuse to comment on their actions.
I have only met Theresa Van Sant once, at a Leadership Cumberland County event. I cannot comment on her ability, but if she was let go due to performance issues, the taxpayers deserve to know. I do not think that was the case.
I was against Don Olbrich’s appointment because he had zero qualifications for his position. He was only given that post because he provided Lou Magazzu with transportation during campaign season, so that Lou could go to housing projects and GOTV. However, he has been performing his duties respectably. There was no reason to demote him simply to give another political insider a pension and health benefits. I totally agree with Tony Surace, a newcomer who is entitled to speak out as he has played no part in the Democratic partisanship in the past.
“I felt very strongly that the people in those positions found their jobs in jeopardy without justification — there was nothing I’ve seen written that questioned their job performance,” said Surace. “We need to have a process and follow that process when it comes to evaluating at-will employees like these, because to my knowledge there’s no reason to terminate them.”
The only decision that made sense was to release Jack Surrency. He was given a patronage job that the State of New Jersey said, in official correspondence, he didn’t meet the minimum requirement to perform. This move put the public health and welfare at risk. This move cost the Cumberland County taxpayers matching funds towards the salary. Granted, the matching money was not significant. I think it was $13,000 annually, or somewhere thereabouts. The impact on the county budget was not earth-shattering. That is not the point. The point is, if I cost my employer $13,000 a year due to my inability, I would be out of a job.
The confusing thing is that James Matlock still has a job? How many more lawsuits will the county have to suffer before the Freeholder board wises up? Morale under his leadership is at an all-time low. Overtime under his watch is out of control.