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Candidate Forenza Says He Brings Fresh Perspective, Budgeting Skills to Table

Says he still has to overcome "misconception" on Valley Hospital, possible recusal.

Leaning on decades of experience poring through budgets, council candidate Russell Forenza says he can be the finance watchdog residents need in government.

A 51-year resident of Ridgewood, the Paterson budget officer says his approach is simple – if there's a problem that needs fixing, he wants to be out in the forefront hammering out issues with all stakeholders.

You may remember the  when he ran for the seat .

"I've worked in finance and budgets for 40 years," he said. "I'm very capable, I understand government, I understand how it works. I certainly can be a definite asset. If people got over and realized the Valley situation is not a factor for me – I'm working with everybody on it – I would think I should win." 

, spoke of his platform with Patch.

Budgeting/taxes

Process isn't necessarily the problem when budgets are crafted, Forenza contends.

"Things do work when they're done properly. You can put a budget together but the guy that spends the money has to be watched over to make sure it's spent well," he said.

During the interview, Forenza made a point of noting there's often the attitude in government that because a certain dollar figure is allocated to a project, it has to be spent in full. That, he said, is lunacy, and one of the prime reasons taxes rise.

Procurement is one such way to realize savings, he said. State contracts set prices early in the year and very often months later the value of the purchase decreases.

"A way we can keep costs down is to bid everything," he said, adding "transparency" was an important item in his view.

He spoke at length on the level of services and the cost municipal government incurs. Forenza's been increasingly vocal about the police and fire contracts.

Prefacing that he fully supports the right to negotiate for public employees, he believes Village Manager Ken Gabbert and the village council left the taxpayers out to dry when renegotiating with its biggest unions, public safety. Forenza said had Village Hall waited, police and fire would have been forced to pay 1.5 percent of salary toward health insurance much sooner.

Police in Ridgewood kick in on Jan. 1, 2013 and fire follow the year after. Insurance costs account for about 14 percent of the budget and police and fire wages are another 26 percent of the $44 million budget. Police and fire currently pay on average about $480 a year, he said.

"If we caught that money, it could have gone back into the budget. Instead of laying people off we could have re-used it," he remarked. "The Manager and council failed the taxpayer. I'd catch that if I were there. None of the council members have said anything about it."

He pointed to a way to keep overtime costs – which are rising – may be to hire more officers, though he was non-committal given the annual costs.

Forenza also suggested revising salary schedules for certain village employees. He said it's his belief some are set entirely too high.

Other employees, like the Ridgewood Village Manager, also seem too well paid, he said. In Paterson, the business adminstrator is responsible for the third-largest city in the state. He's paid less than Gabbert, whose domain includes 25,000 people.

"No one gets that kind of raise anymore," he said. "That's ridiculous."

Business

He'd also like to see the village stop "killing the golden goose" by its supposed nickel-and-diming of business owners with fees.

"The more you charge, the more customers may say they'll go to another town for the same steak," he said. He suggested the village consider trying free parking during November and December under the stipulation merchants park at the Graydon lot.

"I'm willing to sit down with any members of the Guild and Chamber to see if we can do it," he said. "Anyone."

Valley

A neighbor of the hospital for decades, Forenza said he's not a Valley strongman as he believes he's been painted. 

"I don't want to shove anything down anyone's throat because you know what, it's not going to work," he said.

However, the candidate who has supported expansion efforts in the past, may not have a seat at the table.

"I don't know the answer," he said of potentially recusing himself from hearings. Forenza's wife works in the hospital's human resources department. "I'd have to seek legal counsel to review the situation. I don't know it's enough to make me stop voting."

One other candidate, Albert Pucciarelli, said he'd recuse himself from votes because of a work conflict.

Nevertheless, Forenza's plan is to get people to the table. "I belive we can come to some type of agreement, probably between one year or a year-and-a-half."

If an agreement can't be reached, Valley will have to present its plan to the village, he said.

"I'm not going to tell people they're going to have forced construction or forced this or that," he said. A non-binding referendum may be a thought, he said.

He thinks being proactive is the best approach, a contrast to the mayor. He was worried about the Master Plan rescinding the amendment with the lawsuit it's named in. "I'd like to steer clear of that," he said.

Paterson Overtime Scandal

Top officials in Paterson became embroiled in a scandal after it was discovered the mayor and other top administrators received overtime payments they weren't entitled to during Hurricane Irene.

Forenza's name has come up, though he says he's done nothing wrong, has taken no money and his name shouldn't have come up.

"My name got put in by mistake," he said, explaining he was scheduled to be off because the bridges were closed. He said he came in on Friday not to work on anything related to hurricane matters, but to fill out a state application on state aid that needed to be submitted by the end of the day.

As a non-exempt, non-salaried employee, he said he's entitled to overtime.

"I kept the check and returned the check and canceled it. I should have never been put on that list. The city and state knows about it and it's the end of the story. I've done nothing wrong or inappropriate."

Pedestrian Safety

Sometimes traffic moves too fast on E. Ridgewood Ave. the candidate commented. "Maybe we need speed bumps," he said, adding he feels "crosswalks are also dangerous." Forenza said he believed the village should seriously consider shortening crosswalks to lessen the danger.

One intersection in particular is a concern for him – Maple and Franklin avenues. He wondered why a delay can't be implemented to cars aren't turning left on a red onto Franklin.

"The mayor, a police captain, can't see that?" he wondered. "There's something wrong there."

Infrastructure

The budget officer in the Silk City said he knows a thing or two about aging infastructure and how to update it. The key to the plan? Underground cameras to see where there's wear and create a solid replacement plan before catastrophe strikes.

"I'd RFP that, see who gives us the best price," he said. "Maybe buy the cameras, and train our people to do it."

Citing a need to develop shared services, he said perhaps Ridgewood could make money going to other towns and make some loot off it.

 

This concludes our candidate profile series. Mayor Keith Killion has not made himself available for an interview. , , , Keith Killion, and Russell Forenza are running for three four-year seats. Elections are held Tuesday, May 8.

Albert J. Pucciarelli May 06, 2012 at 09:43 AM
The very first time I spoke publicly about my candidacy - February 13, 2012 - I acknowledged my conflict regarding Valley. At Monday's debate I said that because of the conflict I was uniquely suited to play a roll in bringing the hospital and the neighbors together in what I hope will be a meaningful dialogue. Only two days ago did I read for the first time that candidate Forenza's wife works for Valley and he too has a conflict that would prevent him from voting. Finally now - two days before the election - I am seeing for the first time the candidate himself acknowledge this. I concluded that I have a conflict (and checked it with a lawyer in my firm who is an expert on such matters) because the state law on the matter is quite clear. I am surprised that for the past two months I have been asked about the conflict of interest frequently while Mr. Forenza, who may have enjoyed support of the Valley proponents, only now - just days before the May 8 election - is mentioned in connection with a possible conflict. Mr. Forenza, a non-lawyer, is not sure he has a conflict. Here is the relevant state law: "No local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment." Albert Pucciarelli
Inigo de Loyola May 06, 2012 at 12:16 PM
The pro-Valley candidates are going to get routed again on Tuesday.
About the town May 06, 2012 at 03:17 PM
"Leaning on decades of experience poring through budgets, council candidate Russell Forenza says he can be the finance watchdog residents need in government." From the Record, in February: "An investigation by the Paterson City Council has found rampant abuse of overtime payments during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, led by Mayor Jeffery Jones and his seven department heads who all received thousands of dollars in OT they were ineligible to collect....because their job descriptions made them exempt from overtime. Receiving the payments were...Budget Officer Russell Forenza...." "“They took advantage of a system that was in place for people who desperately needed help,” [Ken] Morris [the Paterson City Council president who led the council investigation] said. 'It doesn’t portray the city in a very positive light. But what it has done is shine a light on a lot of things that we as a council didn’t know about. And that’s a complete deficiency in the management controls of the payroll.'” http://www.northjersey.com/news/passaic_morris/passaic_town_news/022212_Paterson_City_Council_probe_reports_wide_overtime_abuse_in_hurricane_emergency.html
Marcia Ringel May 06, 2012 at 03:31 PM
It's the sneakiness that's so exhausting. In this little suburb we are not accustomed to having to second-guess everything or be "played" so hard and for so long.
momofthree May 06, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Mr. Pucciarelli, could you please explain how your conflict regarding Valley makes you "...uniquely suited to play a roll in bringing the hospital and the neighbors together in what I hope will be a meaningful dialogue?" If you have admitted that New Jersey state law defines you as a person with "a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment," then why would we want you at any hypothetical bargaining table? Please, do us all a favor. If you are elected to our VC, honor your conflict of interest and step away from the issue entirely.
AMAMOM May 06, 2012 at 08:53 PM
I have an honest question, no snakiness intended. If several VC members have to recuse themselves with any questions regarding Valley couldn't we end up with decisions made by only 1 or 2 council members? How many council members are needed to vote on an issue?
James Kleimann May 06, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Three votes makes a quorum with a five-member council. If hypothetically Forenza and Pucciarelli were elected, Walsh, Riche and the other elected member would be able to cast votes. A two-vote majority would make anything on the matter official.

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