Dispute over stipends erupts anew on Washington Twp. council

Posted: March 05, 2014

WASHINGTON TWP. A split that has pitted the Washington Township council president against his two fellow Republican council members for months has manifested itself in a renewed fight over compensation for the local Municipal Utilities Authority board.

Republican Councilman Chris Del Borrello introduced an ordinance last week to end the annual stipends given to the seven board members, who oversee water and sewerage operations.

Council President Giancarlo D'Orazio opposed the measure, alongside the two Democratic members, and for the fourth time in months, it was rejected by a 3-2 vote.

MUA board members meet about twice a month and receive stipends, the highest being $1,200 for Chairman Michael Russo. Treasurer and Secretary Rich Silvestri makes $1,100, while three other members receive $800 per year, according to D'Orazio. Two alternate members are paid nearly $35 per meeting unless they are absent.

At least three of the members also continue to receive health benefits or payment instead. They are grandfathered into the program despite a change in state law. Officials said that perk can be changed only by the MUA board itself.

Del Borrello and Councilman Daniel Morley, a former council president, have pushed to ax the stipends since May.

"They're the only nonelected board in the township that receives a stipend," Del Borrello said Monday, calling the authority a source of "political patronage."

Del Borrello said he would continue to push for the change. The most recent ordinance, he said, would have ended the payments upon a member's new term.

"I've been trying to compromise and change it, and hopefully get another council member on board with it," he said.

D'Orazio, the MUA's council liaison, said the stipends are justified.

"I'm trying to compare MUA to other MUAs," he said, citing comparable compensation in Monroe and Deptford Townships. "It's the closest to a private-sector company you could have."

Russo, who could not be reached for comment Monday, referred to the ordinance as "mean-spirited political retaliation" at a Feb. 12 council meeting, according to the minutes. D'Orazio contended that his fellow Republicans were displeased with appointments, such as an engineering firm selection, made by the MUA board.

In 2011, D'Orazio launched what on Monday he called an "evaluation" of the MUA - referred to as an "investigation" by some news media at the time.

"He's basically done a [180], and now wants to preserve all these things," Del Borrello said.

D'Orazio said that although he obtained no support to conduct his assessment, "it became obvious that the MUA is running an efficient authority."

"I was able to change my mind on that one, because I attended the meetings," he said.

D'Orazio was elected council president in January with the votes not of his fellow Republicans, but of the two Democrats.

Soon after, the Washington Township Republican Executive Committee announced it would not support D'Orazio for reelection to the council this year, saying he had defied the party's core values.

D'Orazio, countering the party's portrayal, said he is not a "yes man" to the party or any other organization. He said he plans to seek reelection. Del Borrello and Morley have said they will not run.

The township GOP, in its January statement, in part linked D'Orazio's fall from grace within the party to his vote appointing Jill McCrea, a former local Democratic Party chairwoman, as the municipal clerk. McCrea is also a former chairwoman of the MUA.




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