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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Residents Concerned about Upper Government’s Transparency

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By Camille Sailer

PETERSBURG – According to several citizens, the Upper Township Committee and administration have a serious problem communicating with its residents, particularly as to how it makes decisions.
The concerns range from the lack of transparency in decision-making, citing the posting of resolutions only after approval, for example, to enact budget items, to the hiring earlier this year of the business administrator without advertising the position or interviewing more than one candidate.
At the Dec. 12 township committee meeting, Ordinance 028-2022, up for public hearing and final adoption, was unanimously approved establishing 2023 salaries, an annual exercise that is a usually considered a routine matter that elicits no citizen comment. However, on Dec. 12, a Marmora resident came forward to ask a series of questions about the details of the township’s salary tiers, increases and other remuneration.
Identifying herself as an HR specialist who analyzes salaries for a living, she said, “According to my research, the township has 61 full-time employees, and of those, 15 are in the $95,000 to $ 130,000 range established by state law, so 25 percent of the total.” She said these maximum salaries are “really high” and compare unfavorably to other townships in New Jersey, which have similarly-sized budgets but support large police forces.
“God help us if we ever have to fund our own police; we won’t be able to afford to live here,” she said.
She said something is wrong with the inequities of salaries in the township, because those at the lower end are making less than the average with really small annual increases, while those at the top are making huge salary increases. She said additional appointments with titles different than the original position can add to an employee’s overall salary and are not being separated out. Mayor Curtis Corson said the range is the maximum and not necessarily what is being paid. Business Administrator Gary Demarzo told the resident to email him these questions and he would reply.
Soon after this exchange, the same resident during public comment objected to the township use of Kronos, an HR tool for managing time and attendance. Contract negotiation with Kronos was on the closed session agenda and as a result became a new topic of discussion.
“I am familiar with this system; it’s very sophisticated and not cheap. There are licensing fees to use Kronos and each employee needs a license. For 116 township employees changing to Kronos does not seem justified,” she said.
“Kronos is not much more expensive than what we are using now; please submit your questions to me and I’ll respond,” Demarzo said.
Reacting to the delay in getting answers in this public forum, another township resident suggested questions being submitted to the township administration, as well as the answers, be posted on the township website.
“Residents come to these meetings, ask thoughtful, intelligent questions, but we never hear what the answers are because they are promised only to that one person who asked them. We have a right to know what the township is thinking and doing with our questions and feedback,” the resident said.
Demarzo told the resident to submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for this information, but the resident corrected him saying the suggestion was to post items of general interest.
Neither Corson or Demarzo responded to opportunities offered by the Herald to clarify why citizens remain concerned about township administration or share their perspectives about this ongoing and growing issue of lack of transparency in Upper Township’s governance.

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