In a recent letter to the editor, Vernon Councilman Patrick Rizzuto stated that the Vernon residents should make an informed decision regarding a pay raise for the mayor. He had an opportunity to do just that during his campaign in the fall. He could have used the very same slide presentation that he used during the Jan. 27, 2014, town council meeting to make his case to the people. He could have debated the issue publicly with the other candidates running for office. It could have been part of the political advertisements and road signs. That, Mr. Rizzuto, would have been the correct way to get the voters input on this issue. That is the tried and true democratic process for letting the people make informed choices on who they want in their government based on the positions of the candidates.
Instead, ordinance 14-01 was drafted by the township attorney to provide a pay raise for the mayor. This was deemed such an important issue that it was the first ordinance of 2014. Imagine that, the mayor’s compensation is the most compelling issue facing Vernon. The ordinance was ultimately adopted by a 3-2 vote. Councilmen Rizzuto and Wetzel both voted in favor of the ordinance. According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Victor Marrotta donated $600 on Oct. 15, 2013 to the Committee to Re-elect Rizzuto-Wetzel-Dunn. There is nothing wrong with the mayor donating to the campaign. However, I do believe that councilmen Rizzuto and Wetzel should have abstained in voting for an ordinance that directly provides monetary gains to a campaign contributor. Getting a legal opinion on this from Vernon Township attorney Kevin Kelly would seem inappropriate considering that his law firm, Kelly & Ward LLC, donated $500 on Oct. 23. There also was a $1,000 donation from the Skylands Victory PAC, Kevin Kelly president, on Oct. 22.
Mr. Rizzuto said, “I would urge those residents who have questions to avail themselves of the truth and make an informed decision, not one based on emotion, but one based on the facts.” I must say that I totally agree with that statement. The facts were just stated in the previous paragraphs. This is not just opinion or conjecture, these are indisputable facts.
I wonder how many supporters of this pay raise would have been aligned with the petitioners if a different person were mayor. The supporters use the term chief executive officer as if there is some meaningful relationship between the duties of a Vernon Township Mayor and a real CEO. If the existing mayor is truly a CEO, executive search firms would be offering him six figure career opportunities. Considering his obsession with a salary increase, he would be long gone. The Mayor is simply an elected official. As such, the stipend of compensation should be in the $7,000 range. At that level of compensation, we could then draw dedicated public servants to the position instead of career politicians. Our highly trained firefighters and ambulance squads are perfect examples of getting the best people to serve the community without monetary considerations. The council needs to clearly define the duties of the Mayor as a part-time position and adjust the salary downward at the end of this Mayor's term.