Phillipsburg Council Debates Mayoral Role and Appointments Amidst Public Concerns Over Spending and Project Updates

In a recent Phillipsburg Town Council meeting, discussions were dominated by the debate over the mayoral role’s time commitment and financial implications, the contentious appointment of a new Deputy Municipal Department Head, and public concerns over spending and project updates. These issues took center stage, reflecting the council’s and community’s focus on town governance, fiscal responsibility, and transparency.

The council’s session was particularly charged when addressing the designation of the mayor’s position. Mayor Randy Piazza, Jr. and Councilman Lee Clark exchanged differing viewpoints on whether the mayor’s role should be considered full-time or part-time. Mayor Piazza, Jr. defended the full-time status, referencing the commitment of previous mayors and his own decision to take a reduced salary and waive certain benefits. Despite Clark’s proposal to amend the ordinance to a part-time designation and adjust the salary ranges, the consent agenda was approved, including the mayor’s cost-saving measures, after a vigorous discussion that revealed divisions among the council members.

Another topic was the appointment of Matthew Null as the Deputy Municipal Department Head of the Division of Maintenance Services. The debate centered on the necessity and financial prudence of creating this new position. Councilman Keith Kennedy questioned the need for the role, while Councilman Matthew Scerbo and Council Vice President Meliss Paulus opposed the resolution based on salary concerns. Nevertheless, the resolution passed, with only Scerbo and Paulus dissenting.

The council also engaged with the public on various issues, including the allocation of a $330,000 donation from a redevelopment agreement to the Cal Ripken field project. The town attorney clarified that once the council votes on donated funds, they become public money, prompting some residents to question the prioritization of this project over other community needs. Concerns were also raised about the restructuring of the town’s Public Works department, with the council explaining the changes were meant to restore historical organizational structures.

The potential renaming of Needler Avenue to Duncan Avenue due to disparaging comments made by former Mayor Needler about African-Americans in the 1900s was another focal point. Councilman Peter Marino proposed the change, receiving council support but sparking questions about procedural implications. Councilman Clark highlighted the need to inform postal services, while Scerbo questioned the street’s ownership. The council decided to postpone the decision pending further investigation.

Additionally, a resolution to denounce Mayor Needler for his historical comments was unanimously supported by the council, with plans to draft it for the next meeting.

Public inquiries included questions about the mold abatement and asbestos removal on Curtis Avenue, with Nick L providing an update on the delayed project due to additional ACMs discovered. Joe Miner sought clarity on the timeline for making the property usable, underscoring community concerns over environmental health and public safety.

Councilman Scerbo reintroduced the issue of defunct open space and recreation committees, advocating for their reestablishment to utilize allocated funds. The council agreed on the importance of these committees, inviting letters of interest for participation.

Council Vice President Paulus brought up financial topics, questioning the payments to Common Sense for Animals for stray animal management and suggesting a review of taxpayer responsibilities for these fees.

A motion to authorize treatment works approval permit applications for wastewater treatment plants in 2024 was also addressed and passed, despite opposition from Councilmen Scerbo and Kennedy. The resolution’s passage is critical for maintaining the town’s wastewater management compliance.

In the realm of community engagement, the council discussed a resident’s request for storage space for event materials and donations. While no definitive solution was found, the council explored possible options.

The meeting concluded with council members expressing gratitude to the Department of Public Works for their snowstorm management and acknowledging high school athletes’ achievements. Councilman Kennedy called for unity and respect for differing opinions, while also advocating for early cancer screenings based on personal experience.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Randy Piazza, Jr.
City Council Officials:
Peter Marino, Meliss Paulus, Matthew Scerbo, Lee Clark, Keith Kennedy, Randy Piazza, Jr. (Mayor)

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