Rocky Hill Borough Council Reorganizes
By Rikki N. Massand | Jan 20, 2020
Borough Attorney Replaced
New Council Members Sworn In
New Council President Elected
Along with the swearing in of the new Rocky Hill Borough Council members, the leaders of this small borough elected Irene Battaglia as the new council president (replacing Councilman Billy Dawson in that role); approved the resignation of its Chief Financial Officer Nancy Costa; and replaced its longtime attorney with a new one at its reorganizational meeting on January 6.
CFO Costa had replaced Joseph Monzo as Rocky Hill’s CFO just a few months ago, when Monzo retired. Costa also serves as the CFO in Hillsborough Township, where she resides. She did not give a reason for her resignation from Rocky Hill.
New Rocky Hill Councilwoman Jenn Walsh (left) with Borough Clerk Rebecca Newman.
After 15 years of serving as Rocky Hill attorney, borough council voted to replace Albert Cruz of the law firm Difrancesco & Bateman, headquartered in Warren. (Bateman is NJ State Senator Kip Bateman (R).) He earned $173 per hour with a maximum salary of $36,000 for his part-time position in Rocky Hill.
Council approved the hiring of Jolanta Maziarz from the firm Ventura & Miesowitz, also headquartered in Warren, as the new borough attorney. She had previously served as the Rocky Hill planning board attorney. She will earn $140 per hour, with a maximum salary of $30,000 for her part-time position as Rocky Hill Borough attorney.
Cruz, according to his website, is well-known for his knowledge representing municipalities on all aspects of government, including development, affordable housing, zoning, planning, and day-to-day operations. He currently represents the townships of Chatham and Raritan, and the boroughs of Frenchtown and Watchung.
As Rocky Hill Borough Council was voting for Maziarz to serve as its attorney, Maziarz was also busy — being sworn in as a Warren Township Committeewoman. At the Rocky Hill Borough meeting, filling in for Maziarz, was attorney Amanda C. Wolfe of the Ventura, Miesowitz law firm.
Maziarz ran as a Republican and was elected to a three-year term on the Warren Township Committee in November.
Maziarz specializes in municipal law, zoning and land use law, redevelopment, and affordable housing. In addition to her new role, she also serves as Planning Board attorney for Hightstown, East Windsor, and Long Hill; and is the zoning board attorney for Long Hill Township. In addition, she is special counsel in affordable housing matters in East Windsor and Hightstown and as land use counsel to the City of Asbury Park.
Rocky Hill Council’s vote on borough attorney was a tie, three to three. Council members Irene Battaglia, Billy Dawson, and Rasheeda Pretto voted to keep Cruz. Council members Jenn Walsh, Connie Hallman, and Amy Kirtland voted to replace Cruz with Maziarz. The deciding vote was cast by Mayor Robert Uhrik.
Councilman Dawson objected to the professional appointments, citing that council members had received information about the 2020 professionals, proposed by Mayor Uhrik, less than 24 hours before the January 6 meeting.
“Mayor Uhrik failed to notify me that major changes in borough operations would take place," Dawson said. "We have not made changes as big as this in years."
Councilwoman Pretto commented that she received an email from Uhrik announcing these potential borough hires for the year “just this afternoon, hours prior to our meeting.”
Mayor Uhrik replied during open session and said he was sorry for his “oversight” in sharing documents and proposals with council. He attributed his actions to lack of experience, starting his term as mayor only one year ago.
“I take responsibility and Billy is correct," Uhrik said. "The reason is: I was unsure of making sure I did not seek consensus outside of this public meeting. The Open Public Meetings Act says you’re supposed to discuss and do things in this open public meeting, not behind the scenes. But I had shared information with and consulted with the council finance committee as I thought that’s how the process is done.”
Council’s finance committee is comprised of councilwomen Hallman and Kirtland. At the meeting Kirtland commented that for the 2020 borough attorney position, with Maziarz replacing Cruz, the finance committee was consulted. “We gave Mayor Uhrik our thoughts and we support his decision on it,” she said.
Hallman told Dawson it was insulting to suggest that the mayor did not “thoughtfully and carefully consider the candidates that were put forth.” She reminded Dawson that it’s legal and acceptable with the established process, the mayor is able to put his appointments for borough professionals forth first without consulting council beforehand.
“But I agree we should have gotten info on appointments two weeks ago or earlier, and that was totally an oversight as we should have gotten the chance to at least look at the names and review them,” Hallman said.
Dawson contended that if two applicants submitted their qualifications for the borough appointed positions but council members saw just one (the mayor’s proposed choice) then council had no basis to decide on the applicants “other than on price,” which was the finance perspective. He says the current process of the borough only weighed the hourly rate of applicants, “which does not constitute qualifications.”
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“Price is not what the RFQ (request for qualifications) is about it’s about qualifications — this was not a bid for the lowest rate. How are we as council then able to weigh, score, and compare? Through this process we need to develop a sustainable system so that in future reorg meetings when the same open and fair process is initiated, a similar type of process follows to prevent this situation,” he said.
Dawson added that new Councilwoman Jenn Walsh was not yet a member of council before her swearing-in on January 6, and she deserved the same opportunity to review qualifications as other council members. But other members of council said until a person is sworn into the office, they are not technically part of council to participate with documents for review. First, Dawson asked that the chance be granted for Walsh and the positions not be voted on for up to 90 days.
Battaglia didn’t second Dawson’s thought to impose a 90-day moratorium for the professional services appointments, but she agreed with Dawson that going forward the borough “should have a better procedure and a more rationed process.” Council then spoke about not making the appointments for 30 days, but only the position of borough auditor was tabled.
“I think it’s unfortunate we did not have that in place last year, but I do not support moving forward now without professionals. I don’t feel that is in the borough’s best interests,” Battaglia said. Kirtland added that she believed governmental regulations require the appointments within 30 days of the new (fiscal) calendar year for the borough.
In the audience for the January 6 reorganization meeting were former Rocky Hill mayors Ed Zimmerman and Brian Nolan, who was a councilman for 19 years and mayor of the borough from 1991 to 2006. Zimmerman had just returned from another reorganization meeting in Warren Township where he witnessed Maziarz being sworn into her three-year term on Warren’s Township Committee. She was appointed there last year to fill a vacant Committee seat. Maziarz is a Republican, as is Zimmerman.
Maziarz has worked as a special zoning attorney on affordable housing for East Windsor Township and Hightstown Borough. She also has worked as municipal attorney for Raritan Township and Branchburg, and Long Hill Township. In addition, Maziarz serves as a pro bono counsel to nonprofit organizations, the Somerset County and Warren County Governing Officials Associations. Ed Zimmerman is executive director of the Somerset GOA.
For over eight years Maziarz has been the Rocky Hill Planning Board attorney. She was appointed planning board attorney when Zimmerman was mayor. He said with her new appointment the Planning Board must approve a different attorney.
“Albert Cruz is a great attorney and he has done a fantastic job here. Mayor Nolan brought him in around 2005; I became mayor in 2007 and I kept him the entire time (until my last year as mayor in 2014). If you look around at township attorney appointments, it’s rare for somebody to remain for 15 to 16 years. I have been pushing to have Jolanta Maziarz for a long time because she’s that good. I think council made a great choice with her, and I’ve asked the council to recognize Mr. Cruz’s service with some type of proclamation. He’s done some amazing things for the borough,” Zimmerman told The Montgomery News just after the January 6 meeting.
Technically, council operated for most of the reorganization meeting with no borough attorney. Cruz was not present and Maziarz was not yet confirmed by council vote. Nolan and Zimmerman assisted council and Mayor Uhrik in the process of the annual appointments and how the voting on that should occur.
Zimmerman noted that these are mayoral appointments and the mayor was seeking approval of the council, and although council could vote down the proposed candidates the roles would go back to the 2019 appointments until they are filled (by a formal vote) for 2020.
Preceding the contested 4-3 vote on the borough attorney, another 4-3 vote occurred as Battaglia was confirmed as borough council president for 2020. She nominated Dawson for president but he nominated her. Council members were split, 3 to 3, and, as with the vote on the attorney appointment, Mayor Uhrik cast the deciding vote, breaking the tie to give Battaglia the nod.
While Van Cleef Engineering is again the borough’s consulting engineering firm, Neshanic Station resident Tom Decker of Van Cleef’s Hillsborough office replaced Rob Martucci as Rocky Hill engineer last fall, as Van Cleef leadership explained a few changes in their company’s structure.
Borough planner (Tamara Lee of Hopewell) and its engineering firm, Van Cleef Engineering, were approved.