Village Manager Gets Raise, Residents Angered

Village council voted 4-1 to raise Village Manager Ken Gabbert's salary $20,000 from late 2009 against considerable public heat

Under a torrent of opposition from members of the public , the village council approved a salary increase to Village Manager Ken Gabbert that represents a 12 percent raise over a 13-month period.

Councilman Paul Aronsohn staunchly opposed the move, which will see Gabbert's salary increase from $165,000 in November of 2009 to $185,000 retroactive to January of 2011.

"These are tough times," Aronsohn said. "A 12 percent increase in salary might be unprecedented not just in Bergen County and in New Jersey, but might be nationwide." 

After  and a ; a ; and new deals with the two biggest unions with comparably small raises, Aronsohn said he found the new salary figure "surreal."

"I don't get it and I don't support it," he said.

The other four members of the council took a different stance on the raise, which had been negotiated in closed session over the past several months.

Gabbert inherited a poor fiscal situation and has turned the ship around, council members say

"He has saved the taxpayers of this village hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last year alone," Councilman Stephen Wellinghorst said of Gabbert, whose salary increased in 2010 from $165,000 to $173,000.

Under Gabbert's watch, Wellinghorst said he has seen the village move in "a better fiscal direction" than it has in recent memory. The other council members all praised Gabbert in their speeches for his performance after inheriting a "poor fiscal situation."

"I think we came to a sound, reasonable conclusion and we are willing to live with it," Wellinghorst said.

Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, Mayor Keith Killion, Deputy Mayor Tom Riche and Councilman Wellinghorst voted in favor of the raise.

Walsh cited several reasons she felt Gabbert was deserving, notably in concessions made by the two most prominent unions in recent negotiations, which she says will yield over $200,000 per fireman and police officer over their expected lifetimes.

"I agree in principle [to] not increasing the tax burden on residents in these tough economic times," Walsh said. "However, there's a practical business issue at hand which everyone needs to understand."

It is important for the council and village manager "not to create a disincentive" for unionized labor to move to non-union management positions, she said.

"The lifeblood of our town comes from employees working here and striving for management in the village."

Killion noted that in 2009, the previous Village Manager Jim Ten Hoeve was clearing over $200,000 a year, yet he heard no complaints from residents or other council members at the time. He also said he found it "surprising" that no council member voiced objections to the unions receiving raises.

"I'm in favor of zero percent raises but if not everyone is going to get that, why reward one and not the other for doing the same things?" the mayor asked.

Councilman asks: shouldn't residents have had a voice in the matter?

In addition to arguing that there are "substantive problems" with the raise, Aronsohn raised issue with the process.

The memorandum of understanding vote was placed on the agenda Tuesday night and there was no public comment before the vote, which the councilman said denied the public a right to consider what he called an important decision. Aronsohn moved to delay the vote, but found his colleagues not in agreement.

"My opinion is that the council makes the determination to the negotiation and salary increase for the village manager," said Walsh in opposition to Aronsohn's request that the resolution be delayed. "I don't know that the public's input would need [to be heard]."

Aronsohn shot back, "I couldn't disagree more with this notion...that this is not the public's business, that we alone decide as the governing body."

"They are paying the salaries, they are paying the bills," he said of the citizens. "They have every say in the world."

Wellinghorst stated that while it's certainly the council's decision to negotiate salaries, the residents have their say at the ballot box. (The seats of Aronsohn, Wellinghorst and Killion are up in spring of 2012, until the fall.)

Citizens speak out against raise

The voting public fell in line with Aronsohn's views on Wednesday night.

"I think by approving this increase you people on the board are certainly not doing your job," charged resident Richie Henrik. "I think it warrants almost a recall effort to get you the hell out of there. You're giving the town's money away which is not warranted at this time, in this economic environment."

Former Fire Chief Jim Bombace, who has clashed with Gabbert in recent meetings, said as an ex-employee of the village and as a lifelong citizen, he's worked with several village managers, some he'd qualify as exceptional and others, less than exceptional.

"In my opinion, Dr. Gabbert is not an exceptional manager" and is not deserving of the raise, he said.

Others said Gabbert may be the right man for the job, but the timing of the raise is all wrong.

"If times were good and the economy were rolling like it did in the 90s, it probably wouldn't be a problem," said frequent council-goer Roger Wiegand. "But now is not the time."

Gabbert responds to criticisms

Reached for comment at the conclusion of the meeting, Gabbert spoke of what he believed to be accomplishments during his near two-year tenure as Village Manager in Ridgewood. Gabbert oversees a village with around 350 employees, 14 departments and a $52 million budget.

"The union agreements are long-term good-for-the-village, good-for-the-residents agreements," he told reporters. Overall, he said he felt he and the council inherited "difficulties," but changes have been positive. "It's an ongoing process. We're not over the financial issues."

When asked to respond to comments that residents are struggling, in many cases unemployed, and his increase is unwarranted, Gabbert said residents are "always out of work."

"Families are always having a difficult time," he said. "A manager can sit there and not make cuts, not reduce the budget, do the status quo or you can take aggressive action. In my case reduce the staffing, [make] major structural changes to departments and make changes long term for the better."

"I don't fault the residents for standing up at all. That's their right," he said. 

Asked if he felt there was a degree of hypocrisy that union negotiations have been held at or under 4 percent in raises and other non-union are capped with zero percent salary raises, Gabbert said it was an "apples and oranges" comparison.

"I'm not unionized, I'm an individual. I serve at the pleasure of the council. There is no union representation, no lifetime health insurance, no 20 years and then you retire."

"I consider this my family," the Upper Saddle River resident said. "This is the town [where] I spend my life, blood and energy."

The payments, to be doled out bi-weekly, are likely to begin in November.

RdgwdGRock August 11, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Dominick - I doubt that we will get any real numbers. They can crunch the num's any way they want to make the wibit look like a rip roaring success. Just had a thought; should Gabbert now be call Grabit?
Anonymous Guy August 11, 2011 at 03:29 PM
While I think Gabbert is a very effective Manager, I dont agree with the raise, its not appropriate at this juncture and in this economy. We are being told do more with less, he was doing fine with what he had.
Anonymous Guy August 11, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Please share how you propose the Village pressure landlords to raise rents? That is one idea i would love to hear.
RdgwdGRock August 11, 2011 at 04:26 PM
"Anonymous Guy - Please share how you propose the Village pressure landlords to raise rents? That is one idea i would love to hear" I clearly stated that landlords should drop their rent demands for businesses. Perhaps some sort of package of incentives. The politicians are the experts, let them come up with the solutions.
Ridgewood Mom August 11, 2011 at 05:06 PM
The residents of Ridgewood have not agreed to pay him this outrageous salary. This is good 'ol boys club work all the way.
Ridgewood Mom August 11, 2011 at 05:39 PM
The teachers that work with my children are taking a huge pay cut in the form of increased pension contributions. The firemen who might work to put out my house if it is on fire get stiffed. And the people who make the decisions get a 12% raise!!! As a taxpayer in the Village, I feel as though I've just been raped.
Dominick Nizza August 11, 2011 at 06:47 PM
A good move for our Village manager would be to join this group 16 Managers Who Earn over $300,000 a year plus benefits. Click this LINK: http://www.businessinsider.com/california-city-manager-salaries-2010-9#gary-luebbers-of-sunnyvale-301470-1
RdgwdGRock August 11, 2011 at 06:51 PM
Gabbert can join this LinkedIn group, in anticipation of his joining the many unemployed "Top Pay Jobs, Top Level Talents" http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Top-Pay-Jobs-Top-Level-3789830?itemaction=mclk&anetid=3789830&impid=&pgkey=anet_search_results&actpref=anetsrch_name&trk=anetsrch_name&goback=%2Egdr_1313088509383_1
Michael Sedon August 11, 2011 at 07:12 PM
Vote early and vote often.
Dominick Nizza August 11, 2011 at 07:18 PM
R/Guy11, try this for a reality check. Smaller towns. Click this LINK: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/pressure-calif-city-mulls-firing-overpaid-manager/story?id=11230145
RdgwdGRock August 11, 2011 at 07:26 PM
NJ Governor salary is $175k. Village Manager Grabit is now earning more. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governor_of_New_Jersey
David Rutler August 11, 2011 at 08:29 PM
barbara August 12, 2011 at 03:01 AM
This salary raise is deplorable!!! Honest, hard working people are struggling to keep up with the Ridgewood property taxes increasing every year and Mr. Gabbert feels that he is "owed" a $20,000/year salary increase and that it is justified! Mr. Gabbert I notice that you DO NOT live in Ridgewood, but in the town of Upper Saddle River. Is it because you would rather not pay the ultra high Ridgewood property taxes compared to the much more reasonable and lower property taxes in Upper Saddle River. Perhaps the citizens of Ridgewood should follow your lead and move out of Ridgewood and move to Upper Saddle River where the tax rate is considerably less than that of Ridgewood. If you're going to demand the taxpayers pay you $20,000 more a year, you should at least live in this town and become a taxpayer and know what it feels like to keep up with the outrageous property tax payments that increase by thousands of dollars every year. Maybe then you could feel our pain. Maybe you could understand from where the citizens speak of such an injustice. Fire them all in the next election (with the exception of Mr. Aronsohn)!
Dominick Nizza August 12, 2011 at 03:54 AM
A Patch Video added here would have been timely and helpful for readers that did not see the exchange on home TV.
Ridgewood Mom August 12, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Perhaps this will serve as a wake up call to what is happening nationwide. There isn't less money out there. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/nyregion/fiscal-austerity-creates-pain-for-some-but-not-all.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion
Nancy August 12, 2011 at 10:20 PM
I'm puuting my house on the market soon because I know I can't keep up paying the taxes, even though my house is paid for with no morgage. But I am unemployed, and have been for over 3 years. My husband is cannot work since he is disabled. All of my savings are being used to keep my head above water. Cobra is eating whatever money I have, and I have been dealing with my husband's illness. Mr. Gabbert was doing his job, for which he has been paid for. Thinking he is being owed a raise to do his job is comical. We must be living in the funnies!
RdgwdGRock August 13, 2011 at 04:16 PM
wondering if village manager grab-it will spreading the wealth by spending the $20k right here in downtown ridgewood.
Aannoomm August 13, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Good point RWGuy11. Also, think of all the Ridgewood families that go elsewhere every day of summer to swim. I wonder where those families shop for groceries, and back to school items? Also, when our families go out for dinner, how many of us look for a parking spot on congested streets to eat in Ridgewood? We need to consider how our inaction on many topics cause hard earned local money to go elsewhere. No wonder property taxes keep increasing.
Melvin Freedenberg August 13, 2011 at 06:26 PM
And don't forget, this Republican town elected village officials in the mold of "W," who fashioned himself as a "compassionate conservative." Ask the hospitalized troops at Walter Reade how compassionate he was.
Aannoomm August 13, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I don't think it has anything to do with party. The only party designation, I know of, is Arohnson. In this case, a democrat, was the most fiscally responsible. I am a republican, and Arohnson is the only one I'd vote for again. It is not the national political parties, it is the LOCAL lobbying factions (CRR, PG) creating roadblocks to progress and sending local income to Franklin Lakes, Paramus, Waldwick, and Wyckoff.
RdgwdGRock August 14, 2011 at 01:18 AM
Arohnson is doing a good job.
barbara August 14, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Maybe the citizens of Ridgewood need to start a movement similar to the tea party folks.....citizens for fiscal restraint......nothing will change unless the residents of the town come together and organize and show up at the council meetings ....en masse!
Melvin Freedenberg August 14, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Local politics is a hard nut to crack. We yell and scream about injustices and then when the time to go to the ballot box comes, it's the good old boy's club that goes to support their cronies. The rest of the village isn't organized enough to make a change and we aren't even familiar with who is running and what their positions are. So, the system just perpetuates itself and we get more of the same. One of the bright spots in this article is that many people seem to want to mold the future councilmen in a likeness to Paul Aronsohn. Well, here is a game plan. Mr. Aronsohn, who I do not know, seems to have the confidence of the citizenry to do the right thing. I know that this may be an unwanted burden for him but he would do the citizens of Ridgewood a great service if he would organize a group of qualified opponents to the establishment that we could back in the next election. I think any flyer we might receive before the next election with Mr. Aronsohn's endorsement of a council candidate would motivate people to go to the polls and vote for that person. Sorry Mr. Aronsohn, YOU'RE IT!
Aannoomm August 14, 2011 at 12:28 PM
We also have to understand that if we don't give the services our residents want locally, they will spend their disposable income elsewhere. This includes leisure time in the form of pools and shopping ease in the form of easily managed streets and parking. The only thing that will off set the property tax burden is the development of commercial businesses in Ridgewood. By the way, Valley brings in many people willing to spend money in this town! We have to move FORWARD!
Dominick Nizza August 14, 2011 at 12:47 PM
Melvin Freedenberrg, Mr. Aronsohn, is already doing that in an informal and correct manner thru his personal letters to his friends. I recall a disasterous and inappropriate approach by former Mayor Mancuso that sent out candidate support letters on his Village Mayor's Stationary not his personal own to use the cloak of his office to 'pressure' anyone doing business with the town.
Melvin Freedenberg August 14, 2011 at 12:52 PM
Dominck, You're kidding...........no you're not. Mayor Mancuso really did that? Geeesh. Actually, I am not surprised. Must have been on April Fools day.
Aannoomm August 14, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Also, another group of intials in this town is not the answer in my opinion. All they do is sue the village and tie up tax payer money in litigation. Another way to waste money instead of improve the system.
Dominick Nizza August 14, 2011 at 01:20 PM
Melvin, that's nothing in the 'early days' in the old (same staircase) "Village Hall Bldg" was connected to a large room with desks cabinents for each Councilmen. How many times were three or more councilmen were there at same time having a little closed session. Oh yes, I have seen a lot history since 1948.
Dominick Nizza August 15, 2011 at 12:04 PM
Keeping this topic alive and not just buried in a summary page for the past week. Time to ask about the Village's loss of a $500,000 bequest (property sale 1969) by Maude Thornton estate to be used for a "Youth Center). Their, failure to do so the funds went to Columbia University. Perhaps, the current Council should review a little more Village history and "personnally" replace those funds. What value (today) would $500,000 have been? Oh yes Council, you have a lot to learn and I will keep reminding you.
Ron Knox August 15, 2011 at 02:55 PM
'Gabbert inherited a poor fiscal situation and has turned the ship around, council members say' Funny, wasn't that considered part of his job when they hired him !? So if he hadn't done that he would have seen a reduced pay? Sure. These folks have to think we're all dumb.


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