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Donovan continues blocking Bergen utilities commissioners over stipends, benefits

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: County Executive Kathleen Donovan today vetoed three portions of the Northwest Bergen County Utilities Authority’s minutes from its May 1st meeting, citing some commissioners’ refusal to relinquish their health benefits and $5,000 annual stipends, as well as what she said is the agency’s “inability to follow proper protocol when performing basic duties.”

Bergen Executive Kathleen Donovan (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo)

A judge last month temporarily suspended an earlier move by Donovan to fire seven of the authority’s nine c ommissioners.

Bergen County Superior County Judge Alexander H. Carver III also ordered that the seven commissioners keep their medical benefits until the matter can be resolved in court. However, he allowed a freeze on the $5,000 annual stipends.

This is the first action Donovan has taken against the utilities board since then.

The first veto negates salary payments and benefits the NBCUA commissioners granted themselves.

“Inasmuch as the Board continues to refuse to voluntarily terminate their stipends and benefits, I will continue to veto this resolution respecting the existing litigation, to be consistent with every other board and agency in the County,” Donovan wrote.

She also conditionally vetoed a resolution certifying and approving an independent audit of NBCUA’s 2011 fiscal year.

Donovan said revisions to the audit were made but that the commissioners weren’t given an opportunity to review them before their May 1 meeting. The audit itself “was never delivered to the county,” she said.

Conditionally vetoing the authority’s approval of the report gives county officials time to review it, said Donovan, adding that she may rescind the veto depending on what they find.

Finally, the county executive vetoed a board resolition calling for emergency “injunctive relief” to fight her previous decisions.

“This resolution not only is contrary to the sound fiscal policies I have established for all County boards and agencies,” she wrote, “but also contains blatantly false and contradictory information.”

Donovan said she hopes her actions force the agency to “take the same measures that other utilities have adopted all over the county: to keep rates and services affordable while operating in an economically prudent manner.”

She ordered the seven commissioners fired on April 16 because they refused to comply with her attempts to eliminate — through line-item vetoes — $40,000 for stipends and $97,189 for medical and dental insurance the commissioners included in their $14.5 million budget for fiscal 2012.

Donovan has steadfastedly maintained she is on solid ground, nothing that her vetoes of authority minutes have been upheld by the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services.

The commissioners, who oversee sewer systems for 75,000 residents in nearly a dozen towns, have countered that Donovan is denying them due process by not allowing them an opportunity to appeal the dismissals.

They also insist that only the freeholders can remove an incumbent from their ranks — and only for “inefficiency or neglect of duty or misconduct in office.”

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