HOPATCONG -- The Hopatcong mayor and council will introduce a new resolution at tonight's regular meeting (7:30 p.m.) aimed at protecting the privacy rights of borough employees.
The resolution, placed as an addendum to the agenda, comes on the heels of accusations printed in a local online blog site against Recreation Program Coordinator Catherine Millian.
The article, entitled "An Investigation into Hopatcong's Recreation Department finds Verifiable Evidence on Five Serious Allegations that show Misconduct, Mismanagement and Gross Negligence" appeared in the Hopatcong Lake Regional News on Jan. 4.
According to the borough agenda, the resolution -- identified as 2018-30 in borough records -- is intended to create a policy for the review of personnel records.
Jim Fitzgerald, editor of the Hopatcong Lake Regional News, said in the article that the claims against Millian, which range from ineligibility to hold her position to mismanagement of funds, stemmed from a series of documents obtained through the Open Public Records Act.
"There are two major problems here," said Mayor Michael Francis. "First of all, the documents that are referenced in this article are presented utterly out of context. To be clear, Cathy has not been, nor will she be, charged with any wrongdoing. The borough has followed proper procedure throughout her entire tenure with us. When a policy needed to be changed or adjusted, it was handled accordingly each time. That is how municipal government works."
One of the most serious allegations raised by the article claimed that Millian was ineligible to hold her current position.
Millian was hired by the borough as the recreation program coordinator in January 2016 after several candidates were interviewed for a posted opening, Borough Administrator Ron Tappan said.
In New Jersey, the responsibilities and requirements for the position of recreation program coordinator in any municipality are dictated by the Civil Service Commission. As such, all persons seeking to hold that title must be approved by the commission before they can be officially appointed by a local council.
"It is not at all unusual for a municipality to hire an employee based on their needs and then work to align that employee with the state standards," said Borough Attorney John Ursin. "When Cathy was hired, the general assumption was that she would be put into the permanent coordinator position, as it was believed at the time that she would not have a problem meeting the mandatory eligibility requirements."
According to information provided by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, permanent recreation program coordinators are required to have either one year of experience providing support services in the operation of a recreation facility or 30 semester hour credits from an accredited college or university.
In August, Millian received a notice of ineligibility from the commission, stating that she did not have the proper experience to qualify for the permanent position.
This notice, along with Millian's letter of appeal and the commission's subsequent denial of that appeal, was provided as supplemental documentation in the Hopatcong Lake Regional News article.
"I know that those documents were not obtained through the proper channels," Francis said. "Mr. Fitzgerald submitted a request to our clerk to look at certain records pertaining to Cathy's employment history. That request was denied, as the Open Public Records Act does not allow for the transmission of personal and confidential information to an outside source.
"The fact that he was able to obtain those documents after his request had been denied tells me that there is a problem with our chain of custody that needs to be fixed immediately. At this time, we believe that Cathy's private information was leaked out to this website by either a member of the council or by one of our employees.
"Our employees have high expectations when it comes to the borough's ability to protect their privacy, as well they should. This resolution is being introduced to make sure that those expectations are met and to outline a clear policy that explains what type of information can and cannot be divulged in the future."
When it was discovered that Millian was not eligible for the permanent position in 2016, Ursin said, she was made a provisional employee of the borough in order to allow her the opportunity to gain the level of experience required by the state.
"The only difference between a provisional employee and a permanent one is who that person reports to," Ursin said. "As a provisional employee, Cathy could not be considered a program director and was required to report to the business administrator. When the borough did not have a business administrator in place, she reported directly to the mayor."
New Jersey Civil Service Commission reports indicate that Millian was deemed eligible to hold the permanent position in September 2017 after serving in the provisional capacity for the required amount of time.
She was re-appointed to the permanent recreation program coordinator position in October over two other applicants deemed eligible by the commission.
"It is a very common practice to appoint a provisional employee in a situation like this," said Tappan. "Provisional employees already know the position and what is to be expected of them. By all accounts, Cathy has been doing a wonderful job and there was no reason not to appoint her."
Millian's appointment was made official during a regular meeting of the mayor and council held on Oct. 4, 2017.
Other accusations raised by the Hopatcong Lake Regional News article included the fact that Millian used a personal credit card to make borough purchases that she was later reimbursed for, sold goods to seniors as part of a county-sponsored lunch program without permission, failed to apply for parade permits and hired a personal relative against state regulations.
"Whenever there has been an issue in any of our departments, we have addressed it and made whatever changes were deemed necessary," Francis said. "The purchasing process has been amended to ensure that Cathy and all of our other department heads work with the chief financial officer and submit purchase orders in the appropriate fashion.
"The situation with the seniors was handled without further incident. Our police department does not need permission to shut down borough-owned streets to hold a parade, and once we came to understand that Cathy could not hire a relative to fill a temporary position, that person was immediately terminated after only two days with the borough.
"I'm not saying that problems don't arise in government, of course they do. But when they do, we handle them as quickly as possible. That is exactly why we plan to introduce this resolution."
Jim Fitzgerald of the Hopatcong Lake Regional News could not be reached for comment.
Katie Moen can reached on Twitter: @KMoenNHJ or by phone: 973-383-1230.
Source : http://www.njherald.com/20180117/resolution-on-tonights-agenda-comes-in-wake-of-accusations-against-recreation-coordinator-in-online-blog-site