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Aronsohn, Gabbert Spar Over Ridgewood OEM Communication

Aronsohn accused Gabbert of lacking accountability in snowstorm response, while Gabbert said the councilman was being "insulting" and making "misstatements"

Ridgewood Village Manager Ken Gabbert and Councilman Paul Aronsohn over the issue of storm-related communications on Wednesday, with the councilman saying Gabbert displayed a 'disturbing' lack of accountability and the manager retorting that Aronsohn was "insulting" village staff.

It's not the first time the two have had public spats on the dais on the issue. and refusing to disclose his whereabouts, adding that village communications to residents during the freak October snowstorm was effectively "radio silence," a point Gabbert has denied.

It all boiled over Wednesday night.

Gabbert began the tense discussion by "correcting" "misconceptions and misstatements" regarding a statement last week made by Deputy Mayor Tom Riche, the OEM Communication Director, that once the OEM Center is activated, the OEM Director (Brad Mason) takes control and the village manager in theory is not in charge.

"The mayor is not giving up any authority, I'm not giving up any authority," Gabbert exclaimed, adding Aronsohn's statements were "insulting" to village staff. "We do have a focus so there is not misinformation in the middle of the crisis. I think we were all on the same page, the focus had to be from the OEM on resolving the crisis. Somehow it got on the blogs the mayor and manager were delegating responsibility to the OEM director; it's not the case."

Aronsohn was unconvinced Gabbert was aware of the procedures or protocol.

The councilman listed several grievances with Gabbert's conduct during the storm. "It's disturbing he wasn't clear on his role in a time of crisis," Aronsohn said. Aronsohn – who has often opposed Gabbert on various issues – then alleged he had to file a public records request to get the OEM manual, which he claims Gabbert said he couldn't find and further stated "may not exist."

The manual – one of three in the village – was eventually given to Aronsohn after the public records request.

"Communications were lousy, Ken. Your attempts to deflect this to your staff is just unbelievable," Aronsohn said, drawing a tired look from Killion. "This isn't about their attendance at meetings, it's about your non-attendance at meetings. It's not about them knowing what's in the emergency operations plan, it's you not knowing that one existed."

The village manager took umbrage to Aronsohn's point that there was "radio silence," calling it a "misstatement" and saying much of his critiques are the benefit of "20/20 hindsight" that can't be known in the middle of a crisis.

"Anyone in the village knows the radio waves were in full communication concerning the storm," he said, calling the organizational response "paramilitary-like".

"If the suggestion is that we let our residents know by whatever method possible that it is snowing, or please stay inside, those are valid suggestions . . . if anything we'll have people calling us saying, 'Please stop sending me messages, I know it's snowing outside.'"

Gabbert said that he and the mayor were still top of the food chain but it's a flexible plan designed to focus all efforts to control the crisis with Mason.

"I don't give up my reporting authority to those individuals [village staff] but in that crisis, if Brad Mason needs the health coordinator to help him that crisis, then he's got that authority to reach out and direct that individual."

"He either doesn't get it or he just isn't willing to accept responsibility for it," Aronsohn said after the meeting. "Either way, we have a problem."

Killion ended the discussion, stating it was becoming a "personnel issue" and should be discussed in closed.

Dominick Nizza December 08, 2011 at 09:56 PM
Some of this is appreciated at open public meetings. At least we the flavor of what is happening at closed sessions.
Dominick Nizza December 08, 2011 at 10:01 PM
PS.. those closed meetings with the Police Chief wearing a side arm could be a little threatening don't you think? (see photo above).
Marcia Ringel December 08, 2011 at 10:10 PM
They did not "nearly come to blows." C'mon.
RdgwdGRock December 08, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Gabbert said..."...calling the organizational response "paramilitary-like". I suppose then that weapons were needed during the "crisis" to fight off the dastardly snowflakes. The only flakes left from that storm are the mayor and village manager.
Douglas Cronk December 09, 2011 at 12:49 AM
Did I miss the story where the VM explained where he was during those OEM meetings? Was there something in between the VM's, "I don't remember" a couple of weeks ago and the mayor's, "let's not dwell on the past" last night? It also seems like a pretty big deal that Councilman Aronsohn needed to OPRA the OEM manual. Call me crazy, but I'd expect that to be readily available in the VM's office. Even if it wasn't, I'd expect the VM to find it when asked- not force more $ to be wasted on an OPRA request. What's going on around here?
Lawrence December 09, 2011 at 12:56 AM
Doug - I believe that Gabberts explaination was that he was in his office in Village Hall but no one called him to attend the meeting.
Melvin Freedenberg December 09, 2011 at 01:07 AM
If ever there was a time for the Village Manager to swallow hard and eat a little humble pie, this was the time. But with a show of arrogance, he missed the opportunity and this resident came away with the impression that the Village Manager "just doesn't get it."
Melvin Freedenberg December 09, 2011 at 01:16 AM
In the comments part of the council meeting, I wish to thank Craig Hueneke for his bringing to light a new ad hoc group of residents that is concerned with making Ridgewood a better place to reside and to do business. The council will hear more from the "Citizens for a Better Ridgewood" in the future.
Dan Johnson December 09, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Why does Gabbert keep saying this phrase: "The mayor is not giving up any authority" Let us be clear in Ridgewood, the Mayor has NO authority. He is just a member of the Village Council and they are the board of directors of the village. Executive authority resides in the missing from the emergency Gabbert!. He should know that. The fact that he seems to think the mayor has some kind of executive authority is just one more reason why Ken has to go. And, BTW, I think the only person Aronsohn insulted was Ken---and with very good reason. A staff is only as good as their leader. Ken is no leader. Before we have another crisis we need to get our emergency act together.
TGooch December 09, 2011 at 03:19 AM
This must be a leaf/branch strategy meeting. Come on over to Melrose Place to see the pumpkiins ....under the branches.......under the leaves. We haven't seen a truck over here in 2 months.
Balka Kuhn December 09, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Agree with Douglas; The OEM manual should have been studied when he got the job and be a requirement in the job description; perhaps there is no job description, that would be scary. We have to move on from this. Residents still have needs from this storm. In my area there have not been any leaf or debris pickups so far this year. Immediately after the storm the village told us to place our debris on the curb and the village would take care of it. Now 6 weeks since the storm, like TGooch said, the 4 streets near my house, have become really bad. Last week they had to detour an accident and utility pole repair on Lincoln around our block and there is only the width of one car to go through since leaves and branches are about 4 feet high or more and all the way into the street. I think they completely forgot this part of town. If our taxes were late I am sure they would have come by to pick up a check by now.
RdgwdGRock December 09, 2011 at 03:01 PM
I'm sure that Gabbert would say "Manual? We don't need no stinkin manuals!"
Ridgewood Mom December 09, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Thank you so much, Mr. Aronsohn, for standing up for the Village!
RdgwdGRock December 09, 2011 at 05:28 PM
Paul Aronsohn is a stand-up person. I needed his help several years ago; he quickly responded to my email and helped to resolve an issue I had.
Dominick Nizza December 09, 2011 at 07:04 PM
That was true. What needs to reviewed was the process used to hiring the Village Manger. How many candidates were there, and what standard of selection was used in the final choice? Perhaps, the Patch editor at time, could provide us with more detail?
Jim December 09, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Gabbert's term is up at the end of the year right? Does anyone know if this is a publically elected position or by the council?
Melvin Freedenberg December 09, 2011 at 11:58 PM
Jim, He is appointed by the council. I believe his term as Mayor of Upper Saddle River ends at the end of this month. As an appointee, his term as Village Manager is determined by the will of the council.

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