Don Minyon was sworn in to his first full term on the Millville Town Council on Tuesday night, but the man who filled the seat left open last year by the resignation of former Mayor Gary Willey also took on a bigger job on March 13, with his selection by fellow council members as the town’s new mayor.
Minyon’s nomination came from Councilman Richard Thomas, who entered his second full term on Tuesday night, and with the unanimous consent of the five council members. Long-time Councilman Gerry Hocker refused his own nomination for the mayorship, from Deputy Mayor Joan Bennett, and instead supported Minyon for the job.
Hocker was then nominated by new Councilwoman Kami Banks for the position of deputy mayor and did accept that nod, getting the 5-0 vote with no other nominees.
Banks was selected as the council secretary, also unanimously. And Thomas took on the role of council treasurer, after Bennett — who has served in that role, as well as deputy mayor and acting mayor, during the last year — refused her own nomination.
“It’s time for someone else to have these responsibilities,” she told the council and others present Tuesday night.
Minyon said after the meeting that his priorities for the council term were basically unchanged from his uncontested candidacy. Work on the town’s comprehensive plan and its budget top his list.
“I want to get our budget under control. I’m fiscally conservative,” Minyon noted, on the heels of the same meeting in which he proposed the town hold off on creating a full-time financial position, pending the evaluation of the job by an expert in the field that he proposed the town initially hire part-time.
Minyon also said he didn’t view the promotion to mayor as a license to run the town.
“I’m not a mayor. I’m a councilperson leading the council,” he stated definitively. “I want to build a consensus,” he added.
Minyon also gave a nod to the town’s growing group of employees, saying he and the other council members were in place not to run the town but to aid employees such as Town Manager Linda Collins in doing that job.
Council members to get enhanced access
That offset the impassioned complaint he issued during the meeting. “The locks on town hall have been changed several times during the last year,” he noted, asking that the council affirm that all council members should be given keys to town hall whenever they are changed.
Minyon noted that Hocker often is constrained by the hours of his business from going to town hall during its regular hours, leaving him without recourse to pick up mail and meeting agendas since he hadn’t been given a key.
Banks agreed with the sentiment, saying during her first-ever council meeting as a voting member that the town had given her the responsibility of sitting on the council and making votes and that they should trust her with the responsibility of having a key to town hall.
Hocker said he’d discussed the issue with Collins that very afternoon and had considered getting a quote for the town hall to have a keyless entry system installed. Such a system would control who could unlock the building and at what times, he said, as well as being easily updated to remove access for former employees and council members and add access for new ones.
Minyon expressed support for that idea, asking that — in the meantime, at least — the council members be given their own keys for around-the-clock access.
Reversal on full-time financial administrator
In what may have been the biggest surprise of the night, Minyon kicked off the “new business” portion of the council meeting with a motion to repeal the council’s Feb. 13 vote that added a full-time financial administration position to the town’s roster of jobs.
The controversial move — initially proposed by Collins and supported by Bennett — faced strong opposition at the time from Hocker, as it also involved the elimination of the existing part-time financial position while that employee was out of town.
Minyon and Thomas had also hesitated to vote for the move and initially voted against it when it was proposed to take effect immediately.
Collins and Bennett lobbied for a quick change, however, as Collins was hoping to get a new employee in place prior to training on new software April 24 and the beginning of the town’s fiscal year and tax season on May 1.
After numerous failed votes and a plea from Bennett and Collins to consider the consequences of waiting much longer, Minyon and Thomas were eventually swayed to a compromise that allowed the immediate advertising of the position while keeping the part-time position for a few additional weeks.
But both said this week that they were uncomfortable with the decision afterward and soon felt they had made a mistake in that vote.
Also opposing the decision was Banks, who wasn’t on the council in February and didn’t have a vote at the time. Interim Mayor Tim Droney had also been out of town for that meeting and was reported to be unhappy with the move, though he was unable to make his voice formally heard on the issue.
Thus it came that Minyon decided to suggest the council reverse that decision on March 13.
“I realized I made a mistake,” Minyon freely admitted after the meeting, saying that Thomas had told him after the controversial vote that he also felt his vote had been a mistake. With Banks also on record as opposing the decision and Hocker still firmly against it, Minyon said there was a clear majority of the council who wanted to rectify the situation.
“I have to respect the wishes of the council,” Minyon said of the consensus that led to his motion on Tuesday. As might have been expected on that basis, the council voted 4-1 to reverse the vote, with Bennett in opposition.
Collins was noticeably flustered by the change, reporting that the full-time position had already been advertised and some 18 applications received for it. She said that since Feb. 13 the elimination of the part-time position had led to herself, Town Clerk Debbie Botchie and citizen volunteers to put in many hours on financial matters.
The shift in the positions not only eliminated that part-time position but added financial issues that were in the hands of the town clerk to the duties of the new full-time position, Collins emphasized. She said she was concerned that any part-time person — even the person with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting that Minyon said he’d like to see hired — would be unable to shoulder the additional duties in the same amount of time.
“You’d better let people know, ‘Do not come into the town office for any financial need,’” she told Minyon of the hours when the part-time person would not be there, saying she felt there was no way to do the reformulated job part-time. She described a scenario in which she or Botchie would be forced to say to townsfolk in need of help on financial issues, “I’m sorry, you’re going to have to wait until Thursday.”
Minyon noted in response that townsfolk being willing to wait a day for those needs would save the town money. “Everything is going to be fine,” he assured Collins. “You’ll see tomorrow,” he added, saying that he planned to detail his notions about the financial position at the March 14 budget workshop.
Resident Mark Reeve, who is Bennett’s husband, also took issue with the reversal of the Feb. 13 vote. “It’s disturbing to see the town council backtracking on their decision,” he said, noting the town’s rapid growth. “We need to meet the future head-on, to meet the future at speed and not backtrack.”
“The town manager knows the town’s needs,” he added.
Minyon responded that laws were often, if not frequently, repealed, saying that with the majority of the council now opposing the previous decision he felt they could not just live with their prior vote and had to rectify the mistake.
The new mayor went on to explain that he felt a certified public accountant could do the new job in less time and that the town would be better served if they initially hired such a person part-time and left the door open to re-evaluate the hours needed in six or nine months, when that person had had time to evaluate whether they needed more hours to do the work.
“It’s hard to take it back if there’s not enough work for them to do,” he emphasized, saying that the part-time expert would be free to tell Collins or the council at any time that there simply weren’t enough hours to do the job part-time and leave the council free to make a future adjustment upward instead of downward. “I don’t want to waste the town’s money,” he concluded.
Annexations, ordinances, de-annexation on tap
Also on March 13, the council discussed at length proposals for changes to the town’s personnel manual, tussling over benefits for employees, among other issues.
In the end, council members decided to ask Town Solicitor Mary Robin Schrider-Fox to review the draft manual for areas in which subjective elements could be better defined and to allow more time for council members to review and consider the resulting draft. They voted to table a vote on adopting the manual until their April meeting.
Collins noted that, particularly in light of the lengthy discussion over the manual that night, she felt the council could use a regularly scheduled workshop at which they might discuss such matters in a less formal setting and with fewer people in attendance who might not be interested in the detailed wrangling. Council members agreed that workshops might be a good idea, but no schedule was set.
The town’s public works agreement, as well as ordinances on the moving of structures in the town and defining permitted hours of construction, area also still in the drafting stages. All three are due for a council vote in the near future, but the ordinances are awaiting a final draft of the town’s zoning and subdivision ordinances, and Schrider-Fox and Kyle Gulbronson of planning firm URS are still working on the agreement.
Schrider-Fox also noted on March 13 that additional steps would need to be taken to finalize the town’s vote to de-annex the final remaining portion of the Lord Baltimore Elementary School property that is not in neighboring Ocean View. She said the de-annexation would need approval by the state legislature, noting that the statues on de-annexation had been “very bare-bones” and that some of the upcoming steps still had to be determined.
Collins praised the work of four volunteers from the town’s citizenry who had stepped forward after her February call for some help at town hall. She said Maggie King, Kathy Bla, Nancy Maupie and Richard King had all come by a couple days each week to help for a half-day. “They’ve been a big help to Debbie and I,” Collins said.
The town manager also reported work to prepare the town’s financial documents for an annual audit, and efforts to cut town expenditures by changing its trash hauler and perhaps buying the outdoor rugs at town hall outright and cleaning them on their own, rather than renting them. She also said that several proposals had been received for design of the town’s first Web site, with hopes to get it up and running by May 1.
Collins also encouraged citizens to come by town hall and pick up the Millville Emergency Operations Committee’s emergency preparedness booklet, with a special “wheel” to provide quick response information in case of an emergency.
The booklet was handed out to those voting in person in the March 3 referendum on de-annexation, but Collins said the town was hoping to avoid the expense of mailing them to all citizens who hadn’t voted that day. She noted the value of the document in case of an emergency and suggested as many residents as possible come get them.
Collins also noted that she had obtained a $5,000 grant from Sussex County, which she had requested for an outside sign for the town. She asked the council to consider approving that purchase in the near future.
Also scheduled to start soon is work on the planned Home Depot on Route 17, Collins noted. And she said the town was in discussion with 84 Lumber to provide the town with lumber and store that lumber to be used to protect town hall in the case of an emergency.
Collins further noted that plans for Millville By the Sea are being adjusted slightly, with the revised plans to come back before the town in the near future. Minyon confirmed the recommendation of the town’s Annexation Committee, which he heads, that a new phase of Millville by the Sea be annexed into the town. There will be a future public hearing and council vote on that annexation.
Collins also noted that those homes on Route 17 will soon be joined as part of the town by two new doctors’ offices, which are now set to be housed in two of the older homes on Route 26.