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Aronsohn Irate Village Manager Was Absent During Storm Meetings

Village Manager refuses to answer why he missed meetings, where he was; Deputy Mayor Tom Riche defends Gabbert, says Aronsohn's criticism is unjustified

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.

Lawrence November 03, 2011 at 09:40 PM
So our Village Manager does not know where he was five days ago and cannot remember if he attended EOM meetings? Fair enough that he wasn't physically present but still did his job but how difficult is it to give a reasonable and respectful response to Mr. Arohnson? And how does one teleconference when most phone lines and cell towers were down?
Dominick Nizza November 03, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Perhaps, the Village Manager was attending to his responsibilties at Upper Saddle River. Is he still the Mayor there?
Ridgewood Mom November 03, 2011 at 09:52 PM
Shame on Ken Gabbert.
Jim November 03, 2011 at 10:04 PM
I'm with Aronsohn on this one. The least Gabbert could have done is just show up. Unless he was out of town this is pretty much inexcusable.
Dominick Nizza November 03, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Wearing of too many hats and master of none, don't you think?
Lawrence November 03, 2011 at 11:57 PM
The video of the exchange between Arohnsohn and Gabber on anothe blog site is pretty interesting and eye-opening. Our Village Manager does seem to have a wee bit of an attitude. I think Aronsohn asked some questions that need answers and I am glad he did.
RdgwdGRock November 04, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Ahhhh...let's go easy on Village Manager Grabit. He was prob using the $20k for a well deserved vacation in Europe. His delegated "plan" was good enough for thr Village web-site to go down. His next job will be as a server at Red Mango.
LivinLocal November 04, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Leadership requires planning, dialogue and faith in your staff. If a CEO has to micromanage then either he's got the wrong people delegated with responsibility or he's not the right person for the job. Most town managers are hired to manage, not to hold the hands of the staff. The politicians who hired Mr. Gabbert obviously understood that concept. They're the the ones you want to see around town. They're the eyes and ears of the public and are responsible to assert they have the right man on the job. Where was Councilman Aronsohn during the storm? Ridgewood survived because Mr. Gabbert had the right people, the right team, doing their jobs.
Dominick Nizza November 04, 2011 at 10:09 AM
Department heads were the ones that had the right people on the job before Gabbert arrived and will continue after he leaves. The sooner the better.
Michael November 04, 2011 at 11:22 AM
We saw this coming. No mater how "Ridgewoodian" Mr. Gabbert appeared, he was just jockeying for the best position he could after leaving Little Ferry high and dry. It's time he goes.
Dominick Nizza November 04, 2011 at 11:25 AM
Local Ridgewood Views Blog posted an excellent Video that should remind readers as to what actually happened. The Mayor of Upper Saddle River had a problem answering. .
John Hahn November 04, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Should the well-paid manager of a well-heeled community i.e. Ridgewood be also serving as Mayor of another community at the same time? Life is about choice. Perhaps Mr. Gabbert should choose his paid 'day job' over his volunteer job. His excuses and amnesia seem very lame at best.
Dominick Nizza November 04, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Bernadette, the information you sought for (?) years is on the first page of the Blog. In addition, there is a contact e-mail address. Susan Roxbury and Andrew are the editors. They have always been polite and helpful. and, provide balance to Ridgewood activity news reports.
Craig Hueneke November 04, 2011 at 05:18 PM
There is no excuse! Gabbert must Go!!!!!!! I publicly call for Mr Gabbert's resignation!! That is his responsibility as Village Manager and his refusal shows his ignorance and sense of entitlent he feels he is entitled to! This IS NOT OVER Mr. Gabbert!! You have slapped every resident in the Village in the face and must be replaced without any delay or explanation!
Dominick Nizza November 04, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Bernadette, Those are their real names and the e-mail address is accurate at the Ridgewood Views Blog. I suggest you post a suggested topic page and ask them to publish it on their Blog. They are under no obligation to do so, I'm sure you understand? It's almost like mail to Village Council members being blocked by orders of the Village Manager, as mine are. Perhaps, you can clear that problem up first? Thanks. Dom
Bernadette Walsh November 04, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Sorry Dom they just emailed me, I cc'd you on the thread, they have chosen not to reveal their names. But have added me to their email list. Unless you want to do the big reveal here on Patch? Have a pleasant weekend.
Marcia Ringel November 04, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Nobody has heard the whole story. Before making accusations and threats, why not wait to learn what happened? Short fuses based on no information won't help anything. We've had enough emergencies around here!
KC November 04, 2011 at 08:12 PM
I don't know why we need 5 people to change a lightbulb. If Gabbert's job can get done without him, why do we need Gabbert? As Village Manager you would expect him to have good enough sense to make sure he attended 3 OEM meetings at least to cover his rear end and justify his existence. How could you not expect the backlash? Take some of the $185k you save, give a little more to the guys who actually know how to get stuff done and don't hold titles. Typical government excess/inefficiency on display at the local level. At least that partially explains why there was no official updates throughout the week. No one was around!!!
Craig Hueneke November 04, 2011 at 08:47 PM
Ms. Ringel, The story has been told. He had his chance to tell his "side" when Mr Aronshon asked Gabbert where he was, but instead he stood behind a wall of arrogance and attitude. So in the end it was Gabbert's decision to refuse to answer the question that was the conclusion of that story. Gabbert's refusal to answer and by stating that he is going to do so in writing is nothing more than a delay tactic for him to "lawyer up" and provide some twisted excuse as to why he failed to perform the duties he is generously compensated for. THERE IS NO EXCUSE... HE GROSSLY FAILED TO PERFORM THE DUTIES HE IS PAID TO DO BY OUR TAX DOLLARS! ....HE NEEDS TO GO!
Gregory November 04, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Im pleased that Mr Aronson questoned the Village Mgr on his absences. He gets a big enough paycheck that he should have been present in ourthat state of emergency.Accountability is lacking too often. Don't understand why Mr Richie is creating excuses but it seems to be his norm.
Lawrence November 04, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Whether or not he was or was not at the meetings is not the point although I believe for $180K he should stick around the Village and take a nap on the couch, if necessary (which I've done in my own professional life). The point is, he was asked a direct question but our elected officials and refused to answer. He thumbed his nose at all of us after we just gave him a 12% salary hike.
Mark Bombace November 05, 2011 at 02:14 AM
Paul A. was polite when he asked the question. He and all of us deserved an answer. If there was a legitimate personal reason for not attending Mr Gabbert could have said so and offered to share it privately with the council. It is all about respect and Mr. Gabbert should apologize and answer the question unless there was a personal issue.
LivinLocal November 05, 2011 at 02:16 AM
PeteM, you don't interrogate an employee in public. Could you imagine any government department head being attacked in that way and then not coming back with a lawsuit. It's a closed meeting discussion. A Board of Directors wouldn't question a CEO's performance at a stockholder meeting. Mr. Gabbert reacted correctly. KC, based on your assessment, corporate CEOs are unnecessary because most large entities have enough good department heads to run their establishments too. Except that their efficiencies work best when coordinated by a good manager who can delegate and assert accountability. Don't you just love small town politics? All that testosterone and ego juices flowing. So many cooks with opinions based on emotions. How much has your "manager" saved taxpayers in his management of all Ridgewood's pieces? Has he generated any efficiencies? The only real question is whether the village successfully dealt with the storm. I don't know because I don't live in Ridgewood but I luv reading these local dialogues. :-)
Dan Johnson November 05, 2011 at 02:35 AM
you don't interrogate an employee in public. PeterM sez. Hello. Guess you don't watch Congressional hearings. It is done all the time. And the question was a simple one. Was Ken at emergency meetings or wasn't he. I don't remember is not an acceptable answer unless he has a health problem. Also, Ken promised a written response but has so far not supplied it. That is grounds for dismissal.
RdgwdGRock November 05, 2011 at 08:30 AM
Craig and Lawrence - excellent comments, esp regarding his salary. Given an emergency, he should have been on the scene to at least lend moral support to residents in need, and show that he is a man of action (which is apparently not the case).
Douglas Cronk November 05, 2011 at 12:12 PM
This is not about where our Village Manager was. (I think, if he wasn't away, he should have been at those meetings.) This is about his refusal to answer a simple question. He doesn't remember? Come on. That is insulting to the VC and all village residents. Since when is it an interrogation to ask if someone was at a meeting? If he had simply answered, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. What if the Chief of Police or Fire Chief had given the same answer to the VC? Would we be reading here that they had a plan in place, so "I don't remember where I was but I'll write you a letter." is a perfectly acceptable response? (Mark- you'd be a good person to answer that question.) James- was the village manager available to answer your questions over the weekend? There were an awful lot of people getting their info from you, so I'd say an open line of communication with you (and others) would be an important part of the VM's responsibilities.
Dot November 06, 2011 at 12:02 AM
We just want the flooding to stop in Ridgewood for all residents who live by the HoHoKus Brook. Whatever that takes in the yearly maintenance budget, do it. It would have been more productive to add the extra money to maintaining the brook than giving out raises at this time. We need yearly maintenance to our HoHoKus Brook and bridges. As a result, the Village will be spending even more money making repairs. Try and distribute money where the money is needing, in maintenance and repair of the HoHoKus Brook and the neighborhering bridges. Let's stop the floods and freeze the raises.
Ron Verdicchio November 07, 2011 at 01:21 PM
The Village Council as a body supervises the Village Manager. The Village Council should query the manager if that is what is needed which it appears it is. That said, Councilman Aronsohn took it upon himself to initiate an investigation which was politics pure and simple. Let the re-election campaign begin! Ron Verdicchio
michael leondan November 07, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Paul A. Spoke his mind, the other ones are afraid to step up. Unfortunately no one backed Paul up. The mayor and the rest of council are out there bad mouthing Gabbert on daily basis. But when it come to confronting them about it, they back down. They have no problem speaking bad about Gabbert behind him. So if anything Paul is not afraid to stand up for his town and speak his mind. I don't know the men, but i do know, he felt what he did is right. The others one don't have a set balls to do it. So cheers for Paul , for looking out for your community.
Dan Johnson November 07, 2011 at 02:10 PM
If the others bad mouth Gabbert, why did they vote to give him a $20k raise?

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