Vernon. The Vernon Township Council pulled a resolution on Dec. 14 that would have charged township attorney Josh Zielinski with investigating the operation of the township’s building department.
According to the township code, building department is listed as a division of the township’s Department of Planning and Development. “I really don’t think we need to have an attorney on the department and how it should run,” Council Vice President John Auberger said. “We should be able to figure out what the jobs and titles are and go from there.”
The township brought Bob Westenberger in as the township’s construction official starting in July and he has been working through the department’s backlog to get the department back on track. “He is a top-notch official and he does know what needs to be done,” Mayor Howard Burrell said. “A lot of the inquiry, he’s done an awful lot of it.”
Council President Harry Shortway was concerned about the town not making the deposits of revenue taken in from permits and fees in a timely manner.
According to state statute, they must be deposited within 48 hours. “I want to know if those are isolated incidents, or is this the way it’s been run for years,” Shortway said.
Shortway said Westenberger is not a department head since the building department is a division of a larger department, according to township code.
“We have to follow the code,” Shortway said. “You know the problems you’ve heard over the last five years. We have to make this department as efficient as possible.”
Westenberger said at a previous workshop meeting, where he said that he needed to be at the Municipal Center more to serve the public better, and Murphy floated the idea of hiring another inspector, leaving Westenberger time to be at the desk.
“If he’s not there to watch what’s going on, this is where you run into all these problems,” Murphy said. “It’s not for him to be a watchdog. People want to see him.”
Business Administrator Chuck Voelker said the township treats Westenberger as a department head, even if the ordinance doesn’t define him as one and suggested breaking the Dept. of Planning and Development into three departments, which would also include Land Use and Zoning.
The township is allowed nine departments under the Faulkner Act, and is currently only has seven.
Councilman Andrew Pitsker suggested letting Westenberger do the research for the next quarter and then dig further if they need to.
“It gives Bob a chance to find where the ghosts are and then make some recommendations,” Pitsker said. “Give him a chance to do that, if we have to move forward, we move forward with this investigation.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an error in the summary, which should have read: Council Vice President John Auberger said the township did not need to have an attorney determine the running of the department. This was stated correctly in the body of the original story.
“We have to follow the code. You know the problems you’ve heard over the last five years. We have to make this department as efficient as possible.” Council President Harry Shortway