By JOHN T. WARD
Whatever new form of government it might adopt, Red Bank needs a strong chief executive officer, a consultant who co-authored a critical review of borough operations said last week.
Joe Hartnett, whose résumé includes jobs as administrator in Montclair Township and Cranford, fielded questions from the Red Bank Charter Study Commission during a Zoom interview January 5.
As an executive with Government Strategy Group, Hartnett co-wrote the groundbreaking 2017 Management Enhancement Report that recommended the review of Red Bank’s 1908 charter of incorporation as a municipality.
He also served as the borough’s “acting interim assistant administrator” for four months in early 2018, backing up GSG partner Ken DeRoberts, following the retirement of Stanley Sickels.
In a November referendum, borough voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin the creation of the five-member Charter Study Commission. The commission is now in the early stages of a nine-month effort to review and recommend possible changes to the form of government.
While there’s “no perfect form” of municipal government, “the most important thing that I recommend is that there be a CEO,” said Hartnett.
Red Bank’s government, Hartnett and DeRoberts wrote in 2017, “has morphed into a ‘Commission’ form of government which gives individual elected officials larger roles in the actual day-to-day business of the various departments.”
That approach can lead to the formation of departmental “silos,” with inefficient communication and disruption, he said.
“No matter what, Red Bank needs to clearly spell out, in writing, what everybody’s roles are, and what the chain of command is,” Hartnett told the commission. “Can you imagine working somewhere and you don’t know who your boss is? ‘Do I report to this office? Or can this person come in and tell me what to do?’ You want an answer: who do I report to?
“That would be a terrible environment to work it, I hope you all agree, whether it was in private business or municipal government,” he said.
Commissioner Mike DuPont, a former council member, asked about existing “penalties for an elected official who kind of steps onto the turf of the borough administrator.”
Under state law for the so-called “council-manager” form, “if an elected official tries to direct an employee what to do, or interferes with an employee, that person can be removed from office,” Hartnett said.
Commission Attorney Michael Collins cautioned, however, that “there’s a distinction between an ethics violation” under the Local Government Ethics Law “and someone overstepping the bounds, especially when the lines are gray.”
Hartnett also reiterated a recommendation from the 2017 report: that the borough write a five-year strategic plan “that covers every aspect of government and establishes clear goals and objectives.”
“I’m not sure I can tell you exactly what the recipe for success is,” said Hartnett. “But one thing I can tell you for sure is that a guaranteed recipe for failure is to try to please everybody.”
Video of the Hartnett interview is posted on the commission’s new Facebook page.
The meeting was originally scheduled for January 13, but the date change was changed and notice “went out before the New Year,” Facey-Blackwood told redbankgreen.
The commission now plans to meet on the first Wednesday and third Tuesday 0f each month through September, when it must complete its mission.
At its January 18 session, the commission is expected to interview an official from the Local Services Assistance unit of the the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.
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