One member of the council was infuriated the village's top administrator was absent for an undetermined number of staff meetings while the weekend's snowstorm inflicted heavy damage onto Ridgewood.
Councilman Paul Aronsohn wondered pointedly –where was Village Manager Ken Gabbert as the branches fell and 95 percent of Ridgewood went dark on Halloween weekend?
The Village Manager – who's squabbled with Aronsohn several times since his appointment in fall of 2009 – refused to state where he was or why he missed one, or maybe two, of the three OEM meetings held on Saturday and Sunday.
He told Aronsohn he'd provide him "a detailed response" at a later date.
"I don't have an answer for you right now," he said. "I could have been at all the meetings. I don't remember. I don't think I was, but I'll get the answer to you if it's important to you."
That wasn't good enough for Aronsohn, who said the village was able to send detailed messages amongst officials warning of the storm but did not disseminate it to residents while power was still on.
"This is a very serious issue," the councilman stated. "You're the CEO, the Village Manager, you run the day-to-day operations and you remind us on a regular basis, and here we have the worst storm in over 100 years and you won't tell me why you were only at one of the meetings."
Reached by phone Thursday, Deputy Mayor Tom Riche said Aronsohn is wrong for criticizing Gabbert.
"If somebody wants to take an opportunity because they think they can take a shot at the village manager, it's all about them, it's not about the village manager," he told Patch Thursday afternoon. Riche said Aronsohn should "get his facts straight" before criticizing.
The deputy mayor told Patch there is an emergency operation plan in place, updated regularly and practiced often. "There's also team in place," he said.
"It's unfair to think the village manager will work 24 hours a day. The plan works, it's executed in the first 24 hours of the storm."
Riche, who attended meetings over the weekend as a longtime member of the OEM team, said Gabbert, while not physically in attendance for some of the meetings, was contactable throughout the weekend.
The fact that Gabbert "delegated" responsibility was a good thing, a sign of leadership, Riche said. "The fact that Ken has the faith in not only the people but the plan is a good thing. It isn't something that should be criticized or grandstanded over at a council meeting."
Councilman Steve Wellinghorst, reached for comment early Thursday evening, said residents should remember this was not a problem unique to Ridgewood. "The whole northeast was hit with this storm," he said. "I think Ken did his job over the weekend, he had to go home at some point. I don't know what else he could have done if he was there the whole time. I thought the whole town did as good a job as it could."
Mayor Keith Killion said he sees both sides of the coin.
"I can understand people questioning why the Village Manager wasn't there," Killion, who attended the meetings, said. "But department heads knew what needed to be done and if there was a question, they contacted Dr. Gabbert by phone. The situation as I saw it was handled completely and there was no downside to not having Dr. Gabbert."
Gabbert refused to respond to questions when approached by this reporter after the meeting.