Township Solicitor Staurt Platt says former Business Administrator Bob Smith received payment unlawfully; Smith’s attorney says client entitled to pay
Township Solicitor Stuart Platt announced, on behalf of Mayor Joann Gattinelli, records had been shown to him by the township payroll department supporting his claim that prior Business Administrator Bob Smith obtained a direct deposit of more than $17,000 on Jan. 12, weeks after his term had expired.
According to Platt at last week’s council meeting, his investigations showed approximately $8,150 was taken for four weeks of vacation time for 2017, and about $9,170 for severance pay. Platt stated, according to the information he received from sources that remained confidential, Smith directed the payroll department to make the payments.
“Mr. Smith’s term expired on Dec. 31, 2016, came into this building at some point after his term expired on Jan. 1, New Year’s Day, and as a result of being here for a portion of that day, triggered in his mind a full four weeks of vacation for the entire 2017 calendar year,” Platt said. “I think that’s inappropriate, in contradiction to the civilian handbook, and in contradiction to his employment agreement. His term expired, there’s no hold over, and there’s no way that he would have earned a full-year’s vacation by coming in one day, part of one day, after his term expired.”
Smith’s attorney, Gregg Zeff, said Smith’s employment with the township ended on Jan. 2. According to state statute, “Each department head shall serve during the term of office of the mayor appointing him, and until the appointment and qualification of his successor.”
Gattinelli appointed Jason Gonter as Smith’s successor at council’s Jan. 2 reorganization meeting. Former mayor Barbara Wallace appointed Smith to his position.
“In this case, Mr. Smith’s successor was not ratified or qualified by the council until the evening of Jan. 2,” Zeff said.
Zeff also said, according to the Washington Township Policies and Procedure Manual, non-unionized employees fully earn all of their vacation time on Jan. 1 of each year.
“This is unlike members of the union that earn vacation time pro rata as they work throughout the year,” Zeff said. “Therefore, Bob was entitled to four weeks vacation because he was employed by the township beyond Jan. 1, and because policies and procedures prescribes these benefits.”
Platt said the severance pay was unlawfully paid, as Smith’s employment ended naturally.
“He’s only entitled to severance pay if he’s terminated by the township before the expiration of his term. His term expired naturally, in fact, if you go by what he did, he went beyond his term plus a day. I believe that severance payment was taken improperly as well,” Platt said. “I don’t think these payments were lawfully appropriated. I don’t think they were lawfully paid or received by Mr. Smith.”
Zeff said Smith was entitled to approximately four weeks of severance pay because he was not given the required six weeks notice.
“The manual specifically provides that the business administrator is entitled to either six weeks notice of separation, payment in lieu of notice or a combination of the two,” Zeff said. “Mr. Smith was indirectly told that he was not going to be reappointed as the business administrator on or about Dec. 21.”
Platt asked council members to add a resolution to the agenda, initiated by Gattinelli, authorizing him as township solicitor to take legal action to recover the money paid to Smith that he believes was “in violation of the employment agreement, rules and regulations and policies.”
“This is plainly and simply an act of political retribution, where the collateral damage ends up being the taxpayers,” Zeff said in a statement. “We are prepared to prove that any allegation of wrongdoing is absolutely false, and Mr. Smith stands ready to seek redress through the court system against any elected or public official that ignores the facts and demonstrates malicious intent.”
Council voted 4–1, with Councilwoman Dana Pasqualone voting no, passing the resolution as stated by Township Clerk Leo Selb at the meeting, “for the solicitor to take legal action to recover sums of money inappropriately paid, without approval to move forward for a lawsuit.”
Prior to the vote, Pasqualone asked fellow councilmembers and the administration to postpone the resolution until the next meeting to review all supporting documents involving the claims.
“Council wasn’t provided with substantial evidence or documentation to support a preliminary investigation. Had any evidentiary support been provided, perhaps I would have voted differently,” Pasqualone said in regard to her decision to vote no. “It is my understanding and position that until an investigation is fully completed, it should not be discussed in public to protect the individual and the township from litigation. It is my duty as a citizen, and as a councilwoman, to represent the town with the highest level of integrity and honesty. I do not feel comfortable voting on a resolution without having the data, facts and records to back up my vote.”
Platt must return to council for additional permission if he believes there is a need to file a lawsuit against Smith on the matter.