Mayor Michael Gonnelli was sworn in as chief of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department Tuesday night, nearly a month after a state law was signed allowing elected leaders to also serve as officers in volunteer emergency service departments.
Gonnelli, who was inaugurated as mayor on Jan. 1, has been a volunteer firefighter in town for 35 years.
Dozens of firefighters were on hand to witness the swearing in that had seemed doomed just one year ago.
In 2006, when Gonnelli was gearing up to run for the Town Council, a political opponent filed a complaint with the state ethics board questioning whether it was a conflict of interest for an elected official to also be an officer in a volunteer fire department. Gonnelli was already on the path to becoming the fire chief. Gonnelli won the Town Council election to represent the 2nd Ward, and the ethics board promised to decide the matter, but then dragged its heels for more than two years and never rendered a decision.
Nonresidents who work in Secaucus can now join the Recreation Center.
After he won election as mayor, the state legislature passed a bill allowing elected officials to serve as senior officers in volunteer emergency services departments. Gonnelli testified twice on behalf of the legislation, which was signed last month by Senate Pres. and Acting Gov. Stephen Sweeney.
After the law was passed, Gonnelli rescinded his resignation and the department voted to accept him back as fire chief. The council made and approved a motion Tuesday to also accept him as chief.
As the swearing in was about to begin, one firefighter in the audience was overheard repeating the 1960s civil rights mantra, “Free at last. Free at last.”
“It’s been a tough 14 months,” Gonnelli said after he was sworn in. “I thank God that it’s over. For the remainder of my term, from the bottom of my heart, I promise to serve, to be best of my ability, the people of Secaucus. I want to thank [the members of the department] for coming out and being patient with me over the last 14 months.”
Gonnelli’s term as fire chief ends on Jan. 1, 2011.
Promotions, raises take center stage again
In a continuing reorganization of the Department of Public Works (DPW), the council approved two promotions that Councilman John Shinnick questioned as being fiscally imprudent.
Kevin O’Connor was promoted to the assistant superintendent position. The promotion, which became effective Feb. 10, also came with $15,000-plus raise. His new salary is $83,353. And Albert Kosky was promoted to be foreman of the motor pool. He also received a raise, to $81,667.
At Shinnick’s request, the council went into a 40-minute closed session in the middle of the public meeting to discuss in private these promotions.
When the vote was taken to approve the promotions, the six Independents on the town council voted in favor of it, while Shinnick, a Democrat, abstained.
“We had a long discussion upstairs about our finances,” Shinnick said before his vote. “This certainly has nothing to do with either of the two gentlemen, their qualifications, abilities, or their dedicated service. We simply have a difference of opinion about finances. In light of the economic times that we’re in, and in light of my commitment to cutting costs, I think we could have the done the [DPW restructuring] in a more cost efficient way.”
Mayor Gonnelli, however, said the overall restructuring of the department would actually save money.
There had been three assistant superintendents in the department. One assistant super retired and will not be replaced.
Although new DPW Superintendent Charles Snyder received a $15,000 salary increase two weeks ago when he was promoted to the stop spot, that was money that had been paid to Glen Beckmeyer, an engineer who served as an acting DPW super on a part-time basis. Snyder will serve in the position full-time.
Gonnelli said two other jobs are being eliminated through attrition. The total cost savings is nearly $200,000, he added.
Televised meetings begin next week – really
The governing body awarded a one-year contract to Secaucus-based Flanagan Productions to videotape Town Council meetings for broadcast on channel 36, a local cable access station. The company will receive $345 for every two-hour meeting and get $60 for every half hour of overtime.
Regular videotaping will begin with the council’s next public meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Flanagan Productions was one of two bidders that submitted proposals in November to tape meetings. The other bidder was iKids, also of Secaucus.
An earlier Request for Proposals did not generate any response from potential vendors.
Gonnelli and two Independent allies on the council – Gary Jeffas and John Bueckner – have been trying to get meetings televised for the last three years, but they faced opposition from some Democrats who were on the council at the time.
The governing body finally voted to televise meetings last spring, but logistical issues further delayed getting televised meetings on the air.
Now that a company has been selected to tape the council’s biweekly public meetings, Jeffas said “this concludes” the work of the Television Committee.
Recreation center opens to nonresidents
The Town Council approved a measure to allow people who work in Secaucus but who live elsewhere to join the Recreation Center. They will have to pay a $25 registration fee and an annual membership fee of $375.
Nonresident members will only have access to the center on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. They will not be able to use the Recreation Center evenings or weekends.
It’s unclear how much revenue this measure will generate for the cash-strapped Recreation Center since peak hours, when most people want to work out, will be unavailable to nonresidents.
The town offers several other membership rates for residents. These rates remain unchanged from last year.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.