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Gabbert Collecting Stipend as Utility Commissioner, Donovan Wants Him Removed

The county executive vetoed meeting minutes to strip part-time utility commissioners of stipends and health benefits. The veto was overridden by the freeholder board Wednesday night.

Although he once supported Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan's opposition to part-time utility commissioners receiving paid stipends and health benefits, Ridgewood Village Manager Ken Gabbert himself has been collecting paychecks as a utility commissioner.

And he'll continue to, with the Bergen County Freeholder Board on Wednesday overriding Donovan's veto of the Jan. 8 Northwest Bergen County Utility Authority (NBCUA) minutes. The board voted 6-1 to override her veto, with Freeholder Maura DeNicola the one vote in support of the veto.

Gabbert – appointed by fellow Republican Donovan in March of 2012 to the utility board – received a pro-rated $4,200 in last year, he told Patch Wednesday. He does not collect county-funded health benefits, which he receives from the village.

The news Gabbert has collected stipends came as a surprise to Donovan and her office.

In December of 2011, Gabbert, a resident of Upper Saddle River, was one of ten mayors in Northwest Bergen County who supported Donovan's pledge to end benefits for part-time commissioners.

“At a recent meeting of the NW Bergen Mayors Association, our Mayors voted unanimously to support your action of vetoing the subject minutes,” Allendale Mayor Vince Barra wrote to Donovan on behalf of the mayors. “We fully concur with your decision that part time Commissioners should not receive benefits including health insurance and that such expenditures are totally unwarranted. We applaud your concern that taxpayers should be required to shoulder such unreasonable expenditures.”

Gabbert later called the commissioner's role a "volunteer" part-time position when council members questioned if his appointment violated his contract as Ridgewood Village Manager last spring. 

Jeanne Baratta, the chief of staff for Donovan, said she spoke with Gabbert Wednesday about the rumors – first reported by The Record – he was receiving payments. According to Baratta, the expectation Gabbert would not receive any payments or benefits was made clear when he was appointed last year.

“He said he began receiving stipends right after the judge's [June] ruling,” she said. “He said he felt there was a middle ground there. My response was, 'So you took the middle ground and did not take the high ground?'"

She added: “We're going to look into what we can do to remove Mr. Gabbert.”

Gabbert told Patch he consulted with the utility board's counsel and was legally entitled to collect a stipend.

His appointment last year came four months prior to Superior Court Judge Alexander Carver's ruling that Donovan could not cut benefits or stipends from commissioners mid-term. Unless an appeals court overturns the ruling, Gabbert can receive up to $5,000 for the next four years. (Appointees sworn in after the date of the judge's ruling are not eligible for benefits or stipends.)

It's unlikely, however, Donovan can oust Gabbert from his commissioner's chair. Her attempt to fire seven commissioners from the board last year was overturned by a judge, who ruled she overstepped the bounds of her power.

The Wednesday Freeholder vote was all about politics, Baratta and ally DeNicola, a Republican, said. 

“We all agree that this board should move forward, that new members shouldn't receive stipends or health benefits and it's something we want to eliminate...this is part of the burden on the taxpayer,” said DeNicola following the vote, one she called “disappointing.”

Her colleagues, however, said overriding the veto was about upholding the judge's ruling while fulfilling its “checks and balances” role as a legislative body.

“We were not sent here to be a rubber stamp for the executive’s actions,” Freeholder Chairman David Ganz said. “When it’s in the best interest of the residents of Bergen County, this board will assert itself to prevent an abuse of authority by the Executive.” 

The chairman of the Democrat-led board said the freeholders “urge the County Executive to try a different approach – to stop the costly lawsuits and legal fights and focus her energies on moving the county forward, creating jobs and bringing relief to the people of Bergen County.”

The Ridgewood village manager is one member on a nine-person board that oversees sewage collection in ten towns in the Bergen County.

Gabbert did not respond when asked if he'd stop collecting the stipend.

Dennis Martinez January 31, 2013 at 12:38 PM
Our Town Counsel will probably vote him an additional raise........
Boyd A. Loving January 31, 2013 at 01:22 PM
Proving once again that it's all about the money.
Long Time Resident January 31, 2013 at 01:22 PM
The Record reported that Jeanne Barrata, Donovan's chief of staff said she spoke to Gabbert and asked why he – unlike Donovan’s other appointees – had agreed to collect the stipend. “He said, ‘because the judge said I could’,” she said. Integrity, something our Village Manager should have and apparently does not. Can someone, anyone, explain why Gabbert has not been told his service is no longer needed by the Village? Any one of the Village Council members care to jump in here.....
jp1 January 31, 2013 at 01:24 PM
If this is a volunteer position then why take any pay.
Mike Deutsch January 31, 2013 at 02:30 PM
The rich always get richer!
maureen January 31, 2013 at 02:38 PM
What a surprise . He stated there was no conflict of interest when he took this position and it was completely voluntary. Ridgewood did a huge amount of sewage work on Grove St. at the County Park prior to his position becoming public . This is the sort of backdoor dealings that should incense our town . So, if Donovan can't remove him , why doesn't Ridgewood get rid of this character who has been double-dipping, getting ridiculous raises and seems to feel he is accountable to no one ? Did we all forget about the snowstorm with no power and no communication ? He wouldn't even explain to Arohnsohn where he was. We all know he was in Saddle River acting as mayor while getting paid to be our Town Manager. This guy is pure slime, but obviously well-connected.
RdgwdGRock January 31, 2013 at 03:13 PM
Gabbert continues to be a joke, at the expense of the Village. Had high hopes for Aronsohn; he is just another political hack
USAUSA January 31, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Wait a minute, this man Gabbert albeit should be run out of Ridgewood and he is well so not one of Ridgewood’s favorite people but he is not wrong here, this was ruled on by a judge in OUR court system. Now whether it is right or not it does not matter, Donovan appointed him and has to live with it like we do.
USAUSA January 31, 2013 at 04:00 PM
What most people do not even realize is Donovan has spent more money on legal fees for this ONE point of Stipends then just paying the commissioners the stipends! Donovan has consistently tried to bully everyone and everything she does not like or agree with and when she loses she brings a lawsuit which the people of BERGEN COUNTY PAY FOR, this is her M.O. cry like a baby, yell at people and if I do not get my own way she sues. I mean come on Jeanne Baratta it is all political, your hiring was political and honestly a gift, the division heads in Bergen County that Donovan made all political and honestly most of them are not deserving and only because they helped in her run for county executive are they in those positions. There are division heads that got the jobs because they worked in the county for 30 years and she felt they deserved to get paid a 6 figure salary after all these years! Come on most do not have the experience to even have the positions they were given by Donovan, including you Baratta! Sad part is I voted for her and do think things need to change but look at the cause and effect, unlike Chris Christie, Donovan you are not always right! I know you are upset Christie didn’t appoint you to the NJ Supreme Court as a Judge but come on get over it.
Mikka H January 31, 2013 at 07:12 PM
High hopes for Aronsohn? he's a professional political hack who hires the likes of white horse strategies to guide him through the filth we call government...he came to Ridgewood to further his political aspirations and knowing he could do so full well as the local electorate is asleep at the wheel....nothing new and nothing will be done...and I will not say until it's too late because that has passed as well.....the council can't even vote on current pay packages and make the hard calls....they will just put it off.....why not? there will be no repercussions and there is no accountability.......
Long Time Resident January 31, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Sounds like your a political troll Mikka H Alot of complaining and no substance.
Kelly McKensy February 01, 2013 at 12:50 AM
nice pick coucil walsh
Mike Kender February 01, 2013 at 02:30 AM
The double dipping in the county government is disturbing to me. We elected a Republican to cut costs, not add to them.
longtimer66 February 01, 2013 at 05:47 PM
This Authority's web site says it serves "portions of Ridgewood" see home page http://www.nbcua.com/ Is Ridgewood part owner or stakeholder in it? Or only a customer? For which portions? What do we pay this group? Anyone know?
Kelly McKensy February 02, 2013 at 01:46 PM
... the area by Midland Park and Waldwick,, the bigger issue is all the dirty money that Ridgewood Councilmember Walsh gave in political contributions to Kathy Donovan. Why did Walsh give her all that money? Did Walsh expect something in return, like the right to pick a paid NWBCUA Commissioner? What was said at that meeting when Honorable Walsh passed that envelope of money to Donovan? Didnt Republicans PLEDGE to never have double dipping? Yet R'wood has a 6 figure Admin, who is also a Republican Mayor?? Seriously, does Walsh think she can get away with this?

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