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Service Provider Appointments Lead to Heated Discussions at SP Council Meeting

Some council members voted against the appointments of new service providers for the Township of Scotch Plains.


Although there was plenty of discussion and two votes no towards the new service providers for the township of Scotch Plains, the council ultimately appointed a new Township Auditor, Labor Relations Attorney and Tax Appeal Attorney at the Jan. 29 meeting.

Also on the agenda was the appointment of the Doyle Alliance Group as the 2013 Health Insurance Broker/Consultant but the resolution was tabled until more information was obtained.

Both Councilman Bo Vastine and Councilman Mickey Marcus voted no on all three resolutions to appoint the three service providers, both council members felt strongly that some of the previous providers were well versed in the details of the township.

Vastine stated, for the second time at a council meeting, that he felt the township was losing continuity by turning over so many of their service providers.  He added that it is not in the best interest of the town to lose those providers who were familiar with the township and hire those unfamiliar.

“It is my concern by changing all the providers at once there is going to be a tangible cost for the taxpayers,” Vastine said. “Not necessarily in the direct fee that they charge but in the loss of knowledge and history they have with the township.”

Marcus echoed Vastine’s sentiment by saying that the previous township auditor served the town very well and he would not recommend replacing them at this time.

“This is a very serious issue as the fees for these services are paid by the residents and taxpayers of Scotch Plains,” Marcus said. “It is extremely important that the process and selection be done properly and fairly – there should be a level playing field for everyone.”

Marcus added that he has concerns about how the selection of professionals has been made this year and whether or not it was fair and open as the state statute insists.

There was also a heated discussion on the resolution appointing Doyle Alliance Group as the Health Insurance Broker/Consultant after Vastine brought up an email that was sent prior to the meeting with an a change to the agenda stating that the dollar amount of this contract increased almost $40,000 more.

“It would appear this firm that is being put forward is almost double the amount we have received bids on from other firms my question is why would we be willing to pay almost 30,000 more for this service based versus going with our existing health insurance broker who had a cap of $50,000 a year, ” Vastine said.

Marcus said if this was true he would like more information before deciding to vote on this appointment.

Again, Vastine commented on the cost of the service provider Scotch Plains was looking to appoint Tuesday evening, stating that the current service provider said their compensation and all consulting fees would not exceed $50,000.

“Now the day of the vote we’re getting emails saying it’s going to be 90k,” he stated.  “Quite frankly paying twice the money for the same service is not in the best interest of taxpayers.”

Underhill stated that the proposal didn’t specify a number, but he added a number to the agenda based on last year’s number.  Vastine said that without a number the proposal is invalid and township Attorney Judy Verrone said she had not seen the Request for Proposal so she would have to examine it again to see if it was valid. 

Right now the relationship with former company will expire on Jan. 30 but employees will be covered through the year.
 
Gialanella commented that many of the discussions at the meeting seemed to be politically driven.

“For a very long time the government of Scotch Plains has been driven by politics… politics is a hobby,” she said. “What we’ve heard from the public that is there desire for change looking to support our longstanding employees with different ideas and resources.”

Glover also commented on the community’s desire for change and his hope to put politics aside.

“I’m absolutely convinced that the folks coming in will well serve this community they will create efficiencies and opportunities,” he said. “A lot of this is political, it is time to put politics aside.”

Additionally, Glover stated that the township will be monitoring the progress of the new service providers and have the council meet with them to hear any suggestions or comments by early March the latest.

TAR January 31, 2013 at 02:04 PM
This is serious money and should not be pushed through approval so quickly. Someone should look at these service providers and who they now know in the government.
Tired January 31, 2013 at 02:36 PM
What's going on here is plain and simple. The new regime is offering paybacks to those firms that contributed heavily to their campagin or to the D's around the county. It's an easy paper trail to follow. So sad to see the days of all the posters that challenged previous administrations now gone since their Dem friends are in office. Talk about phony partisans, I'm sure he's "holden" it out there somewhere....maybe even as he sits on the council.
Holden MaGroin January 31, 2013 at 05:02 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and this is for my independent tired friend. I believe you may have been referencing me in regards to your phony partisan comment. I'm hurt. You see, if you or others are to be believed, I've been very busy. It takes alot of time to be a councilman, a democratic committeeman, a town employee, and still be a good husband and father. But that's ok, I have a moment now from choosing appointments, sweeping streets, collecting taxes, and determining rules and regulations. If you look, you can see that I've weighed in on some of the appointments, the new rules that were proposed and even had time to remind Bo that being 10 times the size of Fanwood makes it hard to govern. Wait..that was him reminding us. Anyway, in regards to these appointments, here is my take. Unfortunately the town attorney seems to be a payback position at the whim of the majority for a long time (see the personal injury attorney and boyhood friend of a prior mayor). The auditor should be changed every so often as you do not want that firm to be too cozy with any government body. If the current auditor has been with us for more than 6-7 years, it's good practice to change firms. If less than that time, I would keep them. Ooops, I'm getting the Tolstoy message so I will continue in another pane.
Holden MaGroin January 31, 2013 at 05:16 PM
I don't know how much a healthcare broker distinguishes themselves from one another. I'm guessing their product is going to be similar, and it's a matter of who gets the commision and how much that will be. I am a little confused on the increase. The article says that it had a not to exceed $50,000 and was changed by Mr. Underhill to $90,000 based on last year's number. Does that mean we spent $90,000 last year and we're trying to spend $50,000 this year? Did the number get changed because Mr. Underhill is trying to be cautious? Is Mr. Glover using $50,000 on the proposal so it looks good now but will need a budget trnsfer later in the year? These are questions I would like to see answers to because it's not clear from the article. I would have no issue if Tired or someone else were to find the donation amounts from these service providers. I haven't had much to comment on recently would be more than happy to lend my voice to Glover and crew if they are messing up. I do have a question for the independent Tired. And for Bo too as a matter of fact. How come the continuity thing wasn't so important when Mr. Malool took the fall during the storm? He had 20 years according the Patch article and until the mayor lost her phone chargers during hurricane Sandy, he appeared to be doing a good job without any complaint. It looks to me that the prior regimes gander ate Mr. Malool's goose.
Nicole Bitette (Editor) January 31, 2013 at 06:02 PM
Hi Holden, I see your confusion. The not to exceed $50,000 amount was in the current provider's proposal and the $90,000 was the number Underhill estimated for the brokerage firm they were looking to appoint (who did not include a number in their proposal). Since there was such a large gap between the two, the matter tabled until further clarification. Also, since there was no number in the firm they were looking to appoint's proposal, Vastine had questions on the legitimacy of their proposal since Scotch Plains specified an amount should be included. Does this answer your question?
Holden MaGroin January 31, 2013 at 06:22 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and this is for Nicole. Yes it does. Thank you for the prompt reply. Only now it begs a few more questions. If I understand correctly, the current provider sent in a bid that says they won't cost more than $50,000. The provider that Glover and crew wants didn't send an amount in with their bid, but Mr. Underhill thinks that bid will cost $90,000. Do we know why Mr. Underhill thinks the new people would cost so much more? Are the people including different things in their bids? If the new broker could cost us more than $40,000 above the current broker's bid, does the new broker guarantee more than that in healthcare cost reductions? Did the new rules take effect yet that we have to find the on-line agenda and link to that? (dumb proposal and will not help with any claims of transparency).
Nicole Bitette (Editor) January 31, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Hi Holden, The reason the Health Broker was tabled for another meeting was pretty much because many of the same questions you are asking were unanswered and the council wanted to those answers before making a decision. Also, the rules were not not a resolution but a discussion item about a resolution, however the council was issued a memorandum stating that these changes will be instituted on January 1, 2013 so I suppose next meeting should run with these rules and regulations in mind.
Tired February 01, 2013 at 03:33 AM
Nice to see you asking questions even though you're a partisan. As for one of your questions, continuity doesn't really hold much water when your failing at your position now does it? I don't believe any of the current vendors are failing at their positions. It's just a case of a little pay for play.
Holden MaGroin February 01, 2013 at 07:08 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and this is for my Independent Tired friend. Why thank you. Let me once again explain my position. When a party is in the majority, their will will often become the law or the practice of a community. The fact that the repubs have been in the majority for so many years will naturally lend themselves to the criticism of those that are not happy with decisions. The majority owns those decisions. What you call partisan is strictly my pointing out (with linked articles) present and historical decisions and actions of those in power that I found to be hypocritical, self-serving or just plain wrong. For instance, were you outraged by a prior mayor's friend who's expertise was in personal injury to be named our municipal attorney? How about our prior councilwoman who was named to serve/represent our interests telling us an audit of her public commision's books would be illegal, during the time an expose showed high spending on parties were occuring? What are your thoughts of a current councilman posting in this forum about council succession processes and how transparent they are, only to be contradicted by other statements that he conveniently left out? If pointing these type of things are partisan, then yes I'm guilty. I would be happy to debate the merits of Mr. Malool and the OEM's response to the hurricane Sandy. My knowledge will be limited to the multiple articles that were published, but not one of them showed a delinquency in duties. cont
Holden MaGroin February 01, 2013 at 07:24 PM
The firing of Mr. Malool by our former mayor on her way out the door was clearly scapegoating and sour grapes. It doesn't really matter if there is a (D), (R), or (I) next to your name to be able to see that That is something that I would like to see the current council rectify. While we are talking continuity, I will cede to you that some of these positions would benefit by keeping the incumbants. I don't know the positions or people in them to lend an opinion on which ones I think should stay, but I will restate that auditors should never stay for too long and in our town it looks like the attorney serves at the whim of the majority. I think that insurance brokers should be chosen by the product they sell and what their fees are compared to the savings they bring with their product. To me an engineer is trained to read drawings and figure out problems. Does knowing our town make them better? Probably not. Your charging of pay to play for these appointments is quite serious. It would anger me and I believe it's illegal. In the past, I've backed up my comments with articles or voting documents to support my point. Will you or can you, my very independent friend, be able to support your accusation of illegal practices with the same? I remember that a prior mayor liked to throw around the word "coward" against those who he didn't like. The one time he went too far it cost his insurance company (and probably our town taxes) a settlement fee. Be careful friend
Bo Vastine February 04, 2013 at 06:49 PM
HM, I know that you want to continue to insist that the previous OEM Coordinator "took the fall" or was a "scapegoat" over sour grapes...however, it appears that facts are proving otherwise. At the last council meeting we voted on a resolution adopting the county's emergency remediation plan. This was done so that we would have access to monies set aside for future emergency planning such as a new generator for the Police Department and a generator to help establish the library as a shelter. When asked why this had not been done previously...the answer was we don't know, but without it we get nothing. When asked to further explain the situation, Mr. Underhill said that the County plan was usually used as a template for local plans or as a substitute for local plans. I specifically asked the question about our plan and was informed that Scotch Plains has never submitted a plan to the County or the State. What? After 12 years on the job we never even had a plan that has been submitted and approved? The answer I got back was no. The reality is this...if there was a plan...it wasn't of any value because it was never submitted and approved. There will be some additional information coming out that will add to the validity of the replacement of our OEM Coordinator...but that will wait for now.
Bo Vastine February 04, 2013 at 06:56 PM
HM, The $50,000 cap was part of the proposal by our existing insurance broker. The $90,000 was the amount from last year's commission paid to our health insurance broker. The new firm that they are proposing...only offered an hourly rate without a dollar amount nor a cap. I do not think there is any savings on the policies...from old or new firms given the fact that the policy was put out for bid last November and renewed already. In essence, it is my understanding that whoever the broker is...the work has already been done for the year. Maybe that's why the existing broker was willing to cap their fees for the year...they knew that they had already done the work.
ralphwiggummm February 21, 2013 at 04:45 AM
Ah, patronage...any way you cut it, it always appears less than honest. And if it appears less than honest, it probably is.

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