Metzler In, Stafford Out as Borough Manager
Ron Mondello to take over as borough attorney
Of the many borough personnel changes Fair Lawn's Republican-controlled council will make at Tuesday's re-organization meeting, none is more significant -- both operationally and symbolically -- than the appointment of Tom Metzler as borough manager, who replaces Timothy Stafford.
Under Fair Lawn's Council-Manager form of government, the borough manager serves as Fair Lawn's chief executive and administrative officer. The manager is appointed by council and administers its directives, executes laws, presents the annual budget, and appoints and supervises most department heads and employees.
Metzler was originally appointed borough manager in 2006 after a long stint as the borough's emergency management coordinator, but the Democrat-controlled council voted 3-to-2 to fire him in October 2008, after he used taxpayer funds to replace his own borough vehicle without first consulting council. After a series of public hearings, where numerous residents showed up to support Metzler, he was allowed to resign in December 2008.
Joanne Kwasineswki, the current municipal clerk, served as acting borough manager in Metzler's absence until July 2010 when Stafford was hired.
Metzler and his supporters -- who included soon-to-be Mayor Jeanne Baratta and soon-to-be Deputy Mayor of Community Affairs Ed Trawinski -- have long maintained that his dismissal by council was politically motivated.
"That was their way of getting rid of him," Baratta said Monday. "His political affiliation was no secret. He was a Republican."
Baratta acknowledged that Metzler had exercised poor judgment by not running his car purchase past council, but said that nothing he did was against the law.
"Should Tom Metzler have come to us? Yes," she said. "Was what he did illegal? No. Absolutely not."
Baratta said she was thrilled to be able to bring Metzler back to his old position, righting a wrong that she felt had been committed by the past council.
"We saw very nominal tax increases when [Metzler] was here, morale in borough hall was much better than it is now and we would like to right the wrong that happened to Tom Metzler a number of years ago and bring him back to Fair Lawn," Baratta said.
She said the replacement of Stafford was nothing personal.
"It’s no secret that he wasn’t my choice," Baratta said. "I didn’t vote for his appointment, but I worked with him. I thought he was very professional. I think he’s a very nice person. We wish him the best of luck, but I think it’s time for a change now."
Republican Councilman-elect John Cosgrove said the replacement of Stafford was not out of disatisfaction with the job he had done, but rather out of the need to change course.
"We have a lot of problems here in Fair Lawn that we have to correct and I think that Tom Metzler is the person that can best do that for us," Cosgrove said.
"I've worked with every manager over the last 35 years and had the pleasure of working with Tom Metzler, and I agree with Sen. [Bob] Gordon who called him 'one of the best borough managers in the state of New Jersey.'"
At the Fair Lawn Old Timers Dinner in 2009, where Metzler received the "Distinguished Citizen Award," Gordon spoke glowingly of Metzler's service to Fair Lawn.
"I found him to be a person of just unquestionable integrity, a highly skilled person who was totally dedicated to the people of Fair Lawn," Gordon said at the banquet dinner (video of speech is attached).
In addition to the borough manager switch, Cosgrove and Baratta both confirmed that Ron Mondello would replace Bruce Rosenberg as the borough's attorney.
Baratta called Rosenberg a "terrific attorney" and a "terrific person," but said the borough needed to make some personnel changes and infuse fresh ideas.
"I think part of what this campaign showed is that people in Fair Lawn are looking for some changes," Baratta said. "We’ve got some problems and if we kept everything status quo, we’d have the same situation that we’re in now. So we think in order to fix some of the problems we have we need to make some changes, and we are going to make some changes."
Unlike Metzler, Mondello's appointment appears on Tuesday's consent agenda, which means it was consented to by the Democrats on council.
Baratta said that Metzler is expected to begin his duties as manager later this week.