A Transition Task Force of 12 members was created in January, comprised of five voting members and one alternate from each municipality. All 12 members are members of the Democratic Party. Mark Freda, the former director of the Borough’s emergency services, chairs the task force. The TTF’s preliminary review is due April 10.
The TTF’s initial budget was $50,000, but Freda explained at the first TTF meeting that this was only an “initial forecast.” In addition, the committee has hired the Center for Governmental Research for up to $62,000 to act as a consultant to identify goals and set priorities for the consolidation.
The task force has also hired an independent attorney, William Kearns, who will receive up to $40,000 for legal services. But the funding for this consulting may come from the state level instead of the TTF’s budget; New Jersey legislature is considering a bill to fund these costs.
In addition, University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said in an email that the University is contributing $250,000 each to the Borough and the Township to offset consolidation costs.
“The University has offered to provide any available expertise that may be needed for the work of the transition committee, subcommittees and the governing bodies,” Mbugua said.
In addition, Executive Director of Public Safety Paul Ominsky and Associate Vice President for Safety and Administrative Planning Treby Williams are serving on the TTF public safety/emergency services subcommittee.
Staffing decisions have been particularly controversial in consolidation discussions.
Township Administrator and TTF member Jim Pascale announced that the consolidation would result in the reduction of 18.5 positions. He noted that the consolidation law allows for early retirement programs in order to “humanely reduce the size of staff.”
At the Feb. 22 TTF meeting, the chair of the personnel subcommittee, Dorothea Berkhout, proposed a moratorium on new hiring until the towns have been consolidated.
At Wednesday night’s TTF meeting, Princeton Judge Bonnie Goldman and Executive Director of the Princeton Recreation Department Ben Stentz expressed their concerns about their staffs being either laid off or moved to different departments due to consolidation.
However, Freda and Berkhout noted this week that under the current consolidation law, the TTF cannot make decisions about future personnel changes.
“You can’t expect [employees] to wait until November to find out if they get a job or not next year,” Freda said.
But the most contentious staffing issue has surrounded Princeton’s police departments. Pascale said that the Township was looking to hire two new police officers.
“We recently did add some police officers, and right now we are in the middle of a recruitment effort to hire two new police officers,” Pascale said.
Township police chief Robert Buchanan and Borough police chief David Dudeck said last week that they do not support the proposed reduction of combined police officers from 60 to 51 once the merger has been completed, according to Princeton Patch.
No decision about any department staffing has been reached by the TTF. The issue has been sent to the personnel subcommittee, which is chaired by Berkhout.
But the task force’s role has also been questioned. Two years ago, the Princeton Consolidation and Shared Services Commission issued a report that detailed how consolidation could occur, but local officials said that the current efforts are not redundant. According to Chair of the Consolidation Commission Anthon Lahnston, the TTF “is tasked with looking at the opportunities available beyond just the road map,” according to Patch.
But despite the efforts to consolidate agencies, some agencies consolidated years ago. Representatives from Princeton’s Health Commission and Princeton’s Human Services Commission and Department reported on Wednesday that their departments had consolidated years before. David Henry, the Borough health officer, noted that his agency had consolidated 35 years ago.
One of the most contentious issues tackled by the task force is whether the group’s meetings should abide by the state Open Public Meetings Act, which governs public access to government meetings. Freda argued at the Feb. 22 TTF meeting in favor of having as many of the meetings open to the public as possible. However, several TTF members pointed out this might mean the public would be exposed to excessive and irrelevant information.
“I don’t think the public is served to have all the ideas out there being discussed if they are not ultimately going to be recommended,” said task force member Jim Levine, according to Planet Princeton.
Ultimately, the task force unanimously agreed to abide by the Open Public Meetings Act for all Task Force and all subcommittee meetings.
The consolidated municipalities will elect a new mayor to represent the joint government this November. On Thursday, Democratic Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes ’83 announced his bid for mayor, joining Township Deputy Mayor Liz Lempert in the Democratic primary.
Current Borough mayor Yina Moore ’79 has not said whether she will participate in the race.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/03/02/30177/