The seven Northwest Bergen County Utilities Authority commissioners fired Monday will seek a Superior Court decision on whether or not the firing is legally allowed, NBCUA Chairman Bill Dator, a Mahwah resident, told Patch Tuesday.
“The operating committee met [Tuesday] morning and authorized our attorney, Leon Sokol, to file a motion for summary judgment with the Superior Court,” Dator said. “It is our contention that the County Executive’s order is illegal and unenforceable.”
Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan who allegedly refused to give up a $5,000 yearly stipend and full-time health benefits, saying that she would seek freeholder approval to find immediate replacements.
Dator and the other NBCUA commissioners, who maintain oversight of a sewage treatment plant in Waldwick that serves 10 municipalities, argue that Donovan does not have the power to dismiss them.
“We are an autonomous authority, not a county agency. We work for our municipalities. We don’t get any money from, or give any money to, the county,” he said. “And, even if we were part of the county, there is a dismissal process that needs to be followed, and it wasn’t in this case.”
Recently-appointed commissioners Elizabeth Salazer and Kenneth Gabbert, the only two commissioners not axed by Donovan, retained their positions because they had not received stipends or benefits, Donovan said in a statement.
Wyckoff resident Jason Shafron, who served as a chairman, was among the fired commissioners.
According to a release from Donovan’s office Monday, Shafron and the six other fired commissioners “defied the County Executive's order to cease taking stipends and full-time health benefits.”
Citing Governor as good legal standing, the county's top official dropped Shafron, Dator, Vice Chairman and former county Democratic head Michael Kasparian, Commissioner Brian Chewcaskie, Commissioner Peter Dachnowicz, Commissioner Frank Kelaher, Commissioner Marion Plumley.
"Your actions fail to honor your oath of office and are contrary to my administration's efforts to promote sound fiscal policy which I have pledged to the taxpayers of the County of Bergen," Donovan wrote in her letter to the commissioners.
The NBCUA oversees wastewater collection and treatment for northwest Bergen towns, and monitors 31 miles of sewer lines throughout the area. The organization serves Wyckoff and nine surrounding towns, including Franklin Lakes, Ramsey, Mahwah and a portion of Ridgewood.
Donovan first clashed with members of the authority after they approved a 2012 budget that included health benefits and stipends for some commissioners.
Donovan has since engaged in a public battle with the authority, vetoing commissioner raises and admonishing them in her recent state of the county address.