Local government in New Jersey often resembles a private club more than a public entity.
Today’s lesson in that reality comes from Hanover Township in Morris County. Some may be more familiar with its two sections – Cedar Knolls and Whippany.
Following the retirement of Joe Giorgio, a 40-year and well-respected municipal administrator, the township committee replaced him with a former committeeman who has no full-time experience in town government. That would be Robert Brueno, who was named to the $155,000 a year job last week. He starts July 1.
Brueno’s work experience has been in business and sales.
Critics in town say it would be tough to create a more vivid example of the “old boys’ club.” And yes, all involved here are men.
But wait a minute.
Mayor John Ferramosca acknowledges that perception, but says it’s all wrong.
He said the township committee went through an extensive and “deliberative” selection process and that Brueno came out on top.
“Mr. Brueno clearly was the best candidate in our opinion,” the mayor said, stressing the new administrator’s business acumen and skill set.
But it’s also worth exploring how such hires occur in New Jersey.
In a state with 500-plus distinct municipalities, it’s inevitable that a lot of towns are going to be on the small side. Many of these towns are not politically competitive, which often results in control by the same political party just about forever. And in a small town, it’s common for those involved to be not only political allies, but friends.
Partisanship here is irrelevant. Democrats and Republicans are equally proficient in rewarding their friends.
In the case at hand, Hanover is a Republican town.
Brueno served six years on the township committee. He’s also a lifelong resident. That and his business background may be impressive, but do they really comport with overseeing a $28 million budget in a town with about 14,000 people?
Put another way, were there no candidates out there with established experience in town government who wanted the job in Hanover? That seems doubtful.
Some residents said precisely that at the meeting in which Brueno was hired, according to an account in the Hanover Eagle, a local newspaper.
Their overall point was a reasonable one – the hiring of Brueno appears to conflict with the township’s own requirements for the job.
As is the case these days, there was also reportedly a vibrant exchange last weekend on the hiring on a Facebook page devoted to Hanover politics. But after a while, the thread was taken down.
That was curious.
A few days later, Judy Iradi, a former township committee member herself, authored her own social media post.
Referring to the comments of others, she asked:
“Wonder what’s going on? Maybe we don’t know all the facts.”
She added that it is incumbent upon the committee to explain its selection process.
And then ….
That post was taken down as well.