By PETE WALTON
Despite the pleas of Mayor-elect Vito Perillo, the Tinton Falls Borough Council voted 4-1 to name Interim Borough Administrator Elizabeth Perez as permanent administrator.
Perillo had asked that the council let him recommend a candidate for the post before it made what the mayor-elect described as a “midnight appointment.”
Council President Gary Baldwin said that Perez was named permanent administrator so that the post would not be vacant after Dec. 31, when her current contract as interim administrator expires.
Perillo said he did not object to Perez continuing on an interim basis.
“I’m disappointed, but I plan to propose someone who the council will approve as the new administrator,” Perillo said after the vote.
The 93-year-old World War II veteran defeated incumbent Mayor Gerald M. Turning last month in a shocking upset which drew national media attention.
Borough Attorney Brian M. Nelson said that “the current mayor and council can’t make a four-year appointment” keeping Perez in the post.
He said, however, that if the council did not agree with Perillo’s choice of a new administrator, it would take a two-thirds vote of the council to remove Perez from the position.
Deputy Council President Christopher Pak cast the only vote against making Perez the permanent administrator. Incumbent Councilman John Manginelli and newcomer Brock Siebert were elected to four-year terms on the council on a ticket with Turning in November. The terms of Baldwin, Pak and Nancyanne Fama expire at the end of 2019.
Perez served Tinton Falls as an administrative analyst for five years before being appointed as interim administrator in July. She replaced Michael F. Muscillo, who left to become manager of Ocean Township.
A standing-room-only crowd attended the council’s meeting earlier this week. The meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours. Though the discussion was heated at times, Baldwin kept the large room under control, allowing those who wished to present their views and to respond an opportunity to do so.
The crowd reacted negatively when Nelson said the discussion would provide “a teachable moment” for those in attendance, many of whom were motivated to go to the polls by Perillo’s “taxpayers first” campaign and reformist approach.
“I’m not sure what the teachable moment is,” replied Perillo’s attorney, Kevin N. Starkey, who said he agreed with Nelson that the council was not obligated to pass the resolution naming Perez as permanent administrator.
Starkey said of Perillo, “By running for election and winning, he has earned the right to have his request granted.”
Nelson acknowledged that the council has authorized advertising for a new administrator and that Baldwin is ready to interview potential candidates.
“The timing is not in favor of granting the (new) mayor’s request,” Baldwin said. “He’s going to need help and advice from day one. He needs more than just Mr. Nelson and the council to advise him.”
Councilwoman Fama said the “negative spew” around the disagreement over the administrator appointment was “upsetting.”
She told the mayor-elect that the council was concerned with getting him the help he needed to start his term of office.
“Ms. Perez has more information, knowledge and experience than you do,” she said to Perillo.
Many in the audience were surprised to hear Nelson, the borough attorney, say that there were no specific qualifications set forth by the state or the borough for hiring an administrator in Tinton Falls.
“It’s not a civil service position and there are no statutory or regulatory requirements,” Nelson said.
The attorney said the mayor-elect and the council would have to agree on qualifications as they discuss the matter after the council reorganizes next month.
According to the resolution approved by the council, Perez will be paid “a salary of $125,000 on an annualized basis, which is far less than authorized for the borough administrator’s position under the 2017 salary ordinance.” Muscillo’s salary as administrator was $140,000, Nelson said.
As was the case with Muscillo and others preceding him as administrator, Perez will also serve as the borough’s Director of Public Safety. Turning, the outgoing mayor, said the public safety director “does not run day-to-day police operations.”
Turning was police chief in Tinton Falls for seven of the 30 years he served in the department. From 2010 to 2014, Turning was the borough administrator. Several residents attending the Dec. 5 meeting credited him with turning around the borough’s financial difficulties. But during his time in office, whistleblower lawsuits related to police department matters were settled for a reported total of $1.1 million. Perillo, a political novice, cited the settlements during his successful populist campaign to unseat Turning.