Borough Manager Resigns; Accepts Consulting Gig
Without a commitment from council to extend his contract beyond this year, Fair Lawn borough manager Tom Metzler submitted his letter of resignation Monday.
Unable to secure a commitment from council that he'd be retained beyond this year, Fair Lawn borough manager Tom Metzler chose to resign Monday and accept a job doing emergency management consulting.
Metzler's resignation, which takes effect May 30, marks the fifth time Fair Lawn has changed managers in the past seven years.
While Metzler said he would have preferred to remain the borough's chief executive officer, he was unable to get assurance from council members that they'd have him back next year.
"There's an election in November and Fair Lawn doesn’t actually have a stellar reputation of keeping managers through an election," Metzler said Friday. "I was very concerned that, at the end of this year, if the majority pendulum swung in the other direction, I wouldn’t be rehired, and I didn’t want to be unemployed."
Metzler, who'd received multiple offers to do emergency management consulting following Superstorm Sandy, was left with a difficult decision.
"After a while I made the decision that it was time to go," he said. "That the insecurity here versus the security being offered working in emergency management was worth the change."
Mayor John Cosgrove, upon learning of Metzler's decision to step down, asked the manager whether there was anything he could do to stop him from leaving.
"I told [Cosgrove] that if they could guarantee me a contract through the end of 2014, I would stay," said Metzler, who's entitled to retirement benefits starting next November when he turns 62. "At that point if they let me go and I wanted to take my pension and work part-time as a consultant, I could do that. If I wanted to see if I could find a full-time job as a manager, I could do that. At that point, the ball was in my court."
Cosgrove said he lobbied council members to retain the manager through next year, but failed to secure the necessary support.
"I think it’s a sad day for Fair Lawn and I really believe that we should begin to look at giving [managers] long-term contracts," he said. "We’ve had five managers in seven years and without continuity our borough is at risk.”
Councilman Kurt Peluso, who declined to disclose his stance on extending Metzler's contract through 2014, agreed that the borough's frequent turnover at the top was troubling.
Rather than offer longer contracts, however, Peluso said he advocated changing Fair Lawn's form of government from its current council-manager format.
"I would like to see a direct election of the mayor instead of it being done by the council," said Peluso, who also suggested reviewing the role of the borough manager.
"The manager is such an important position in our form of government, not everyone fully comprehends the role that they have," he continued. "I think there's some things we may have to review as a council going forward."
Peluso said that while he was comfortable with Metzler's performance as borough manager the past 14 months, he felt next year's council should have a say in whether to retain him.
"The primary responsibility of the council is to put in the borough manager, so I think if I'm [extending] his contract above and beyond this year, then I'm taking some power away from those people who are about to be elected," Peluso said. "Jeanne [Baratta] and Ed [Trawinski], they're not going to be serving past 2013, so should they be extending the contract for the CEO of our borough? That’s a big question."
Peluso said his ideal borough manager would work to keep property tax increases below the 2 percent cap, maintain the borough's amenities, keep his door open to the public and always stay involved in the community.
He thanked Metzler for his service to Fair Lawn, not just as borough manager, but also as the former emergency management coordinator and a longtime community volunteer.
"It’s unfortunate that he’s leaving," Peluso said. "Tom said it best when he was at the council meeting — it’s just the position. There's not really much job security with it."
Metzler said he was disappointed to be leaving, but not at all angry about the council's decision.
"I appreciate that they would even consider keeping me on," he said, adding that he'd remain available to any future manager who had questions.
"The fact of the matter is," Metzler said. "I want Fair Lawn to succeed, because if they don’t, what are the alternatives?"
Metzler said he'll stick around through the budget's adoption this year to ensure Fair Lawn is headed in the right direction.
"I'm hoping that if I can get council to approve something close to what we’re presenting to them, that it will assure a continued growth for another year," he said. "After that, it’ll be on a new manager."
Cosgrove said council had yet to discuss appointing Metzler's successor.
Related articles: Mayor Issues Statement on Manager's Resignation