Council orders investigation into wrongly sold property

Vernon. The Township Council approved up to $10,000 in spending on an investigation into how a property with communications equipment was sold. Mayor Howard Burrell questioned the need for a separate investigation.

| 03 May 2022 | 09:24

The Vernon Township Council on April 25 unanimously approved spending up to $10,000 to investigate how a property with township communications equipment on it was sold during an auction in late 2021.

The resolution appoints Lavery Selvaggi, Abromitis and Cohen as the investigators.

Mayor Howard Burrell said on April 11 that he learned about the error on March 31. The property, located at 6 Mondamin Road, had one of Vernon’s five repeaters, which are used to extend the range and quality of the township’s overall communications.

Particularly in question was an email sent from Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Emmerich to Business Administrator Charles Voelker on Oct. 20, 2021, that indicated that a property on the auction list had “town tower sites” on it.

Burrell said on April 11 that Voelker forwarded that email to Police Chief Daniel Young and Tax Assessor Kristen Umansky. Burrell said a meeting between the police and Umansky didn’t take place but Young and Umpanki reviewed it over the phone and Burrell said they could not identify any remaining items on the list that they believed contained communications equipment.

Burrell said the process of creating the list was flawed and created “a perfect administrative storm” that resulted in the error.

Burrell said the list of vacant properties was not accurate because the addition of equipment like the repeaters was not listed as “property improvement.” He also said the property was only listed by Lot, Block and street address, with no other identifying information, making it impossible for those using list to identify the property as being needed to be removed.

Due to this error, Burrell said he has postponed the township’s vacant property sale that was planned for June until the issues that led to the error are corrected.

Burrell also said the database will be updated to remove any municipal properties that have had “property improvements.” He also said the auction list will be reviewed by each department head and key members of the township’s volunteer service who may have knowledge of improvements or location of communications equipment, making it unsuitable for sale.

Young has developed an Emergency Services Radio Tower/ Communications Equipment spreadsheet containing the name, coordinates, physical address, plus lot and block number where each piece of township communications equipment is located.

Burrell on April 25 called into question the need for a council investigation. Burrell said his comments at the April 7 meeting addressed all the permanent factors for why it occurred and the actions he took that ensured it won’t happen again.

“While I believe my detailed inquiry fully addressed these matters, I understand and respect the fact that under our form of government, the council has the right to conduct its own legislative inquiry or investigation into this matter,” Burrell said. “However, I do question the rational and economic wisdom of the council’s plans to move forward with the action outlined by this resolution.”

He said in the weeks since the error has been discovered no one on the council has informed him that they believed his findings or corrective plans were unclear or incomplete and questioned the decision to spend $10,000 on the investigation.

“I find that kind of ludicrous,” Council President Patrick Rizzuto said. “In fact, that expenditure could have been avoided had the council not found it necessary to step in and requiring an independent investigation as allowed by our particular form of government.”