Corrections to the News-Record's September 22nd Editorial

Posted on September 28, 2011 at 12:40 PM

I am writing to you today in regards to the editorial that appeared in the last edition of the News Record. I do not offer the following criticism lightly, as I understand and value the necessary role for the press to hold public officials accountable. However, in order to promote rational public discourse, editorial opinion must be based upon sound facts. Now, nobody is perfect, but it’s distressing to see the extent to which the News-Record’s recent editorial deviated from the facts - facts that were actually presented fairly accurately in a front page article by Phillip Curran in the very same edition. Below are the most critical of concerns that I have:

· The editorial begins with a statement that “an administrator is needed” and that "a new administrator will be required in the Village..." The assumed fact in that statement is that an administrator has not been chosen. Nowhere in the editorial is it mentioned that Reagan Burkholder, former administrator to Summit, was appointed in the last Board meeting and has already begun the transition. You left your readers with the erroneous impression that the Village has been left adrift, which is by no means accurate.

· The editorial continues by stating that Mr. Gross “will be changing his job description in South Orange”. This statement is not accurate, and when coupled with the previous inaccuracy would imply that instead of addressing a real need the Village is simply engaged in position-shuffling. In reality Mr. Gross has for years held two separate and distinct positions - administrator and the state-required position of chief financial officer (CFO). Mr. Gross has resigned his position as administrator and retained his position as CFO, in which he is tenured under state law, though now under newly negotiated terms. Retaining Mr. Gross as the chief financial officer was critical for the Village, for as Mr. Curran correctly observed, West Orange had great difficulty finding a qualified CFO.

· The editorial attempts to make a point by stating that, “the Village has decided to hire a consulting firm to help locate an interim administrator.” This alleged fact is then labeled with the pejorative word “absurd” by the editorial. In actuality the language used is incorrect on two counts. First, as noted above, an interim administrator has already been retained - the tense used here and throughout the editorial is not correct. And secondly, the Village did not seek to use a consulting firm. Interim administrators often find employment through the use of agents that they employ, which is made clear in the terms of the agreement and our public discussions. It appears as though the editorial may have confused the interim search process and the permanent search process. Although the Board will indeed be considering whether or not to use a firm to help find a new permanent administrator – likely a 4-6 month process – one was simply not retained to help search for an interim administrator.

· Another erroneous assumption of fact is found in the question, “Could the new administrator fulfill the duties of a part-time CFO, as Gross did, rather than hiring someone for the new position?” The fact is that there are very few state approved chief financial officers - so few that as was reported in the Curran article, the New Jersey League of Municipalities endorses the common practice of shared chief financial officers, which in this case saves the Village considerable time, expense and allows for continued use of Mr. Gross's institutional knowledge.

· Although the editorial mentions 'creating a new position' and filling it, at an implied cost to the taxpayer, that simply didn't happen. No new positions were created, and the arrangement the Village has going forward for its CFO and soon for its permanent administrator will actually net considerable financial savings in the medium and long-term for South Orange taxpayers.

I can’t help but wish that we could have these discussions in a more productive way, and with accurate reporting. Any of these facts I would have been happy to explain, had a member of the News-Record done due-diligence and reached out with questions beforehand.