The South Brunswick Township Council will hold its first official meeting tonight to discuss the parameters of the search for a new Township Manager. Current manager Matthew Watkins informed the township late last week that he would be leaving in a month to accept a position as City Manager for Clifton, NJ.
"I'm sorry to see Matt go, he spent about 12 years here, and did a very good job for this town," said Mayor Frank Gambatese. "But this is what happens with managers and administrators, they're constantly looking for bigger towns and bigger challenges, so we wish him luck and we hope we have some luck finding someone to replace him."
With Watkins last day set for Aug. 5, the council will begin reviewing the ordinance pertaining to the manager position to determine if any changes need to be made.
"The first step for us is to review the current ordinance to see if we need to make any changes to bring it up to date, since the ordinance is quite old," Gambatese said. "We need to look and see if we want to change the salary requirements, whether or not the manager should live in town, whether or not they need to have a master's degree. We need to make sure everything is up to date for 2011."
One of the issues raised by residents a few times over the last several years has been the residency status of the manager, as Watkins lives in Burlington Township, which is about an hour away. Councilman Joseph Camarota said last week that residency is a negotiable issue, but the preference would be for a candidate to live in, or at least close, to South Brunswick.
"With Matt leaving in a month it would be impossible to hire somebody within that time, so if we were able to hire someone within three months I would be happy," he said. "We have strong department managers and great directors in our town, so it's not like we're going to fall down and be unable to deliver services to residents. (Chief Financial Officer) Joe Monzo can fill in, unless council feels that it wants to appoint an acting manager to run the township after Matt leaves.
"I'd like to get this settled in three months and hopefully the council feels the same way, but we need to get moving because time has a way of flying."
Watkins served as manager for a total of about 12 years in two separate stints, and leaves with a current yearly salary of $158,008, according to Public Affairs Coordinator Ron Schmalz. The search to find his replacement is expected to bring a large number of applications, which may require the township to streamline the process, Gambatese said.
"I think it's in our best interest to have a committee in place to make some recommendations for a top five candidates or something, because we expect a lot of applications," he said. "This is a desirous job in a desirous township for a lot of people. This is a growing and diverse community, so we're going to have a lot of work ahead of us."
Gambatese added that the nature of South Brunswick's demographics will require a well-rounded individual to handle the various aspects of the manager position.
"We need someone experienced in finances obviously, since the manager submits the budget to council, so they need to be able to work with the CFO," he said. "They need to have experience with open space issues, they need to understand the current atmosphere in our town and in the state with the economy, and be able to work with the kind of state aid we get. They need to have knowledge of what it means to have a diverse community with different cultures and faiths."
Gambatese added that the new manager will ideally bring ideas for reducing operations costs to enable South Brunswick to withstand the down economy.
"Above all we need someone who can come up with ideas to streamline our operations," he said. "We don't have the same level of ratables coming in, so we need someone who can give us flexibility with our budget. I believe they need to have good people skills to negotiate with our unions and to be sensitive to the needs of the people in this town, as well as our employees."