Howell council will take second swing at salary ordinance on March 19

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HOWELL – An ordinance that proposed to establish a salary range for various Howell employees was unanimously rejected by members of the Township Council during the March 5 meeting of the governing body.

The ordinance was introduced on Feb. 19 in a party line vote. Republican Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, Republican Councilman Thomas Russo and Republican Councilwoman Pamela Richmond voted “yes” on a motion to introduce the ordinance. Democratic Mayor Theresa Berger and Democratic Councilman John Bonevich voted “no” on the motion to introduce the ordinance.

That evening, the proposed ordinance was the topic of discussion by a resident who questioned various salary ranges that were included in the ordinance. Council members set March 5 as the date for a public hearing on the ordinance and a possible vote for its adoption.

On March 5, with no comment from the public and no comment from council members, Russo made a motion, seconded by Bonevich, to reject the proposed ordinance and all five council members voted “yes” to reject the ordinance.

In the wake of the ordinance’s defeat, Richmond made a motion, seconded by O’Donnell, to introduce a revised salary ordinance. All five council members voted to introduce the revised ordinance.

A public hearing on the revised salary ordinance has been scheduled for the council’s March 19 meeting. The council may vote to adopt the ordinance following the public hearing.

A salary ordinance does not establish or list a specific salary for any employee. The ordinance establishes a minimum salary and a maximum salary for various municipal positions.

The ordinance council members rejected on March 5 included a salary range for the police chief and the township manager.

The salary ranges for those two positions have been removed from the revised ordinance. Officials said the police chief’s contract is being negotiated and the township manager’s salary was moved to a separate ordinance.

The revised ordinance amends the maximum salary for the chief financial officer from $140,000 to $119,339. The minimum salary will be reduced from $60,000 to $50,000.

The revised ordinance amends the maximum salary for the municipal clerk from $110,000 to $114,995. The minimum salary will remain $65,000.

The revised ordinance amends the minimum salary for some positions, for example, the assistant chief financial officer’s minimum salary was amended from $60,000 to $50,000 and the maximum salary was amended from $95,000 to $65,867.

The deputy tax collector’s minimum salary was amended from $55,000 to $45,000 and the maximum salary will remain at $65,000.

The deputy township manager’s minimum salary was amended from $10,000 to $5,000 and the maximum salary was amended from $95,000 to $40,000.

Also on March 5, the council voted 3-2 to introduce a salary ordinance for the township manager. Republicans Russo, Richmond and O’Donnell voted “yes” to introduce the ordinance. Democrats Berger and Bonevich voted “no” on the motion.

If that ordinance is adopted it will set the minimum salary for the township manager at $75,000 and the maximum salary at $185,000 (an increase from the current maximum salary of $145,000).

Richmond and Berger debated details of the township manager’s salary ordinance. Richmond pointed out she was not on the council in 2018 and that Berger was the mayor last year.

At one point, Richmond said making certain changes could put Howell at risk of a lawsuit since Berger negotiated and signed a contract with Township Manager Brian Geoghegan in November 2018.

The township manager’s base salary for 2018 was $135,000, but it was negotiated to $160,000 in a contract that was signed on Nov. 20, 2018, according to municipal officials.

Geoghegan was hired as Howell’s township manager in the fall of 2017.

Berger said she had no issue with the township manager’s contract, but had an issue with the increase in salary.

Richmond said Berger made a good faith negotiation on a contract and said Howell could be at risk of a lawsuit because the prior council had negotiated the township manager’s contract regardless of the current ordinance.

Berger said she did not agree with the maximum salary and did not see an issue.

O’Donnell said she and Berger are the only two seated council members from 2018 who negotiated the contract and she said she negotiated in good faith.

“The vote is for the salary and I do believe (Berger’s) vote is not in good faith and that is my opinion,” O’Donnell said.