By Jacqueline Durett
EDISON—The recent hiring of director for the Department of Public Works was largely overshadowed by the mayor’s appointment of an assistant to the director.
John Haines started Feb. 25 as the director. He comes to Edison most recently from the same role in Union Beach, and will receive a salary of $120,000. The township has been without a public works director since May 1, 2015; business administrator Maureen Ruane has been handling many of the role’s responsibilities since then.
However, it was a resolution approving Mayor Thomas Lankey’s appointment of Anthony Russomanno to the assistant position that caused some opposition at the Feb. 24 Township Council meeting.
Resident Lois Wolke said she saw the appointment of Russomanno to a position that had not been open for applications, as quid pro quo. Prior to this appointment, Russomanno had been a township employee serving in a constituent relations role for $66,735. In the new position, Russomanno will earn $80,000 per year.
According to township information, Russomanno is currently taking classes to attain state certification as a public works manager. Those costs are being reimbursed by the township, and have currently cost Edison $2,197.
He was also the campaign manager for the four Democrats who all won election and re-election in November.
“I guess we residents are supposed to be gullible enough to believe it is only a coincidence that this position wound up being or possibly being filled by someone entrenched in the democratic fiefdom of Edison,” she said. “In a town of over 100,000, it’s hard to believe the administration could find no one else who would be qualified.”
She said the four council members who were elected in November should abstain from voting.
However, Council President Michael Lombardi said he did not agree that there was a conflict of interest, and asked township attorney Bill Northgrave for his input on the issue.
“The people of Edison voted for the four council people who are here,” Northgrave said, adding that he didn’t feel Russomanno could be singlehandedly credited with the four council members’ wins. He told Wolke: “I understand your position, I respect it. But respectfully, I disagree.”
Councilman Robert Karabinchak agreed with Northgrave, adding that Russomanno has the qualifications to support Haines in his role because of his familiarity with the town.
“This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “It has to do with the experience.”
Irene Wall said this move is just another example of Edison leadership putting its own interests above the township’s.
“[It’s] time to stop the nepotism, the cronyism, and the fact that you love Edison so much,” she said.
The full council unanimously approved the resolution on Russomanno’s appointment.
Following the meeting, Russomanno said the assistant position is one that was in place in the past—under former Mayor Jun Choi and previous to then.
“It’s needed,” he said of the role, adding that Edison is a large township with a lot of public works projects underway.
Russomanno said he felt the new role was largely a progression of his previous post, explaining that most of the calls he fielded doing constituent relations concerned Department of Public Works issues. He said he also has a background in construction and landscaping, so he has the expertise to understand how to execute what Haines wants done. Russomanno also clarified that his new role does not require the state license.
He said any other employees in the mayor’s office could handle any calls or concerns that come in that would have been previously directed to him in his constituent relations role.
Russomanno said he was not part of the hiring process for Haines, but did feel he and his new boss would get along well.
“He’s got some great ideas,” he said, adding that Haines’ municipal experience and his private industry experience will mesh well.
He said he understands that residents will question change, and believes that such questioning is good for the town.
“It’s a good healthy balance,” he said. “I don’t think they mean anything by it, they’re just asking questions.”