Republicans propose government reforms

Plan focuses on hiring of relatives, award of contracts


Staff Writer

Members of the Howell Township Council who can obtain health care benefits through their place of employment or their spouse’s place of employment should do so and should not accept the benefits available to them through the municipality.

That’s the position Republi-cans Joseph DiBella and Cynthia Schomaker are taking.

DiBella, a councilman who is running for a four-year term as mayor, said council members should accept the taxpayer-supported municipal health care benefits package made available to them only if they are unable to obtain health care benefits anywhere else.

DiBella made this pro-nouncement as his introduction of an overall “good government” ordinance that he and his running mate Schomaker are endorsing and will soon present for the council’s review and possible approval.

Schomaker is seeking re-election to a four-year council term in the Nov. 2 election.

Mayor Timothy J. Konopka is not seeking re-election and DiBella is running against Democrat Steve Farkas and independent James Garvey.

Before announcing the proposal at the Sept. 21 council meeting, DiBella discussed his and Schomaker’s proposals with the Tri-Town News.

In addition to his position on the health care benefits, DiBella said he believes that members of the council should be prohibited from accepting any gratuities — from free dinners to sports events. He said the $5,000 annual salary that the mayor and council members receive should be used by them to pay for the costs of official dinners and other related outings.

Regarding nepotism, DiBella said he and Schomaker are advancing a multi-faceted strategy.

According to DiBella, they will adopt a strict policy on nepotism that will “safeguard against corruption while promoting increased efficiency and a more balanced workplace.”

While not prohibiting relatives from working for the municipality, he said they are proposing that relatives should not be allowed to work together in a situation where an immediate family member of one individual holds a superior position in the same department. In fact, they are proposing that if the ordinance is adopted and if such a situation exists, one person in the situation should be transferred to another department.

In a case that involves a unique skill or position the council would be able to waive the requirement.

DiBella said he and Schomaker are also advocating that the township manager and all department heads be prohibited from hiring a member of their family to any position within the township, and that family members of any member of the council be prohibited from being hired by the township during the course of the term as an elected official and for one year after the elected official leaves office.

Howell’s council has five members, including the mayor, who is directly elected by the voters.

The nepotism ordinance would be extended to the family members of any appointed township professional. The relatives of the professional (i.e. township attorney) would be prohibited from being hired by the township during the course of the professional’s contracted service with Howell.

As to elected officials leaving office and then being hired by the township, DiBella and Schomaker are proposing that any retiring member of the council be prohibited from being hired by Howell for 36 months after leaving office.

DiBella said a three-quarter majority of the council could grant a waiver to that requirement, but under no condition could an elected official be hired sooner than 24 months after leaving office.

Included, too, are political party officials whom the two Republicans say should also be prohibited from being hired by Howell for a period of 36 months after they leave office.

DiBella defined a party official as the chair or vice chair of a Howell political committee or the president and vice president of a Howell political club or organization.

Exceptions could be granted with a three-quarter majority of the council, once again with an unconditional 24-month waiting period.

The ban pertains to family members of a party official who would be prohibited from being hired by the township for a period of 12 months after their relative leaves office.

The ordinance would mandate that municipal officials with the power of appointment (i.e. township manager, mayor, council members) would be prohibited from appointing a family member or party official to any board, commission or agency in which that family member or party official would be entitled to salary and related benefits.

DiBella said that in soliciting bids from professionals, strict criteria would be established that would include basing bid awards to a contractor based on qualifications, rather than on just the price of the bid. He said contracts would be awarded based on the qualifications, training, experience and credentials of the firm or person applying for the position.

He said the selection criteria would include but not be limited to education and training, professional credentials customary for the field, years of experience for the person or firm, their ability to handle Howell’s business in an acceptable manner based on other client commitments, and office location.

As to campaign reform, DiBella said he and Schomaker believe that anyone seeking elected office in Howell should be prohibited from accepting campaign contributions of any kind, including in-kind contributions from any firm engaged in the business of residential or commercial development of any kind in or outside of the state.

Starting the beginning of the new year, DiBella said they would impose campaign cost limits that would limit any municipal candidate’s spending to $15,000 in any primary election and $20,000 in any general election.

DiBella said they are proposing that campaign spending caps be subject to review by the council once every two years. He said in that way the mayor and council would be able to increase or decrease the cap based on prevailing costs at the time.

DiBella said he expects these proposed reforms to reaffirm taxpayers’ confidence in their local government while giving them good government for the best cost.