Shah denied dual role of CFO and business administrator in Old Bridge

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OLD BRIDGE — The Township Council denied the appointment of longtime Chief Financial Officer Himanshu Shah to concurrently serve as the township’s business administrator.

Mayor Owen Henry had sought the council’s approval to appoint Shah to business administrator at a meeting on Feb. 26.

The vote was split with Council President Mary Sohor, Council Vice President Anita Greenberg-Belli, Councilman-at-Large Brian Cahill and Councilwoman-at-Large Debbie Walker voting “yes” for the appointment, but Ward 1 Councilman David Merwin, Ward 4 Councilman Mark Razzoli, Ward 5 Councilman Tony Paskitti and Ward 6 Councilman John E. Murphy III voting “no.” Ward 3 Councilwoman Edina Brown abstained from the vote.

Many council members praised Shah for his work in the township; however, some shared concerns of the dual role.

Shah, who has been employed as the CFO since 1993, stepped into the role as acting business administrator after former Business Administrator Christopher Marion resigned more than nine months ago.

“Himanshu Shah has extraordinary credentials and a long history of employment with the Township of Old Bridge,” Henry said. “He’s respected and has been recognized by his peers.”

Henry said Shah has affirmed he has the needed skill set for the role, and has demonstrated a professional demeanor and work ethic.

“He has proven his ability to successfully manage day-to-day operations of this town and also the financial obligations this town has,” he said.

The mayor reported that Shah’s top priority is to continue to improve the services for the residents as business administrator.

In Shah’s financial position, Henry said goal-setting and milestones are being set under his direction and management.

“Himanshu has played a vital role in the past six years in rebuilding this town both financially and operationally,” he said.

Greenberg-Belli said she has known Shah for more than 20 years.

“I’ve been coming to the council meetings [before I came on council] and whenever I had questions he was always available,” she said. “The staff and people who work with him every day, they say he makes their lives better. He raises the bar all the time and helps them perform better at their job.”

Greenberg-Belli said Shah stands on his own merit in municipal government, having served for 37 years – 25 of those in Old Bridge.

“He served under multiple mayors through the good and bad times,” she said. “He can rise above, and solve and get the answer for any problem that we need.”

Greenberg-Belli brought out that Shah received a distinguished service award by the New Jersey Municipal Management Association in 2017.

“Also by [Shah] taking the position, it literally will be saving the town over $100,000 [in annual salary],” she said. “That is not an easy thing to do. Times are tough right now to find all the money for all the things that need to be done for services of the people. Saving $100,000 is a lot.”

Greenberg-Belli also noted the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey League of Municipalities have no issues with the dual role.

Cahill said he has known Shah for 10 years during his time on council.

“I see [Shah] to be a person of character,” he said. “Every time I have spoken to Mr. Shah, he does what is right for the town.”

Sohor said she has known Shah for more than 30 years.

“I worked with him, and my past husband also had the utmost respect for him and I do, as well,” she said. “He can’t always make the decisions that can please everyone and that’s understandable given what he does. I think he tries to help every council member and goes out of his way. I think [we should take into consideration] the mayor supporting him – that’s the person that has to work with him and that’s the person that he sees all the time.”

Paskitti said although he believed Shah was well-qualified for the position and has done a great job for the township, he shared concerns about accountability among the positions.

“There is a reason why there are two positions of business administrator and a CFO, director of finance, and the reason is that those positions currently hold each other accountable, and when we’re going to move to consolidate not only are we losing the power of one position, but we are losing the accountability,” he said.

Merwin said he has known Shah for a long time as an employee of the township.

“He does a nice job,” he said. However, Merwin said, he shared in Paskitti’s concerns of giving someone too much authority.

“Giving Mr. Shah the job as business administrator and CFO causes him being the judge, jury and executioner, and I think that goes way too far,” he said.

Shah said over the years, under different administrations, he has served in similar dual capacities.

“This is not new and more importantly, the reason I could do it is because I have such an excellent skilled staff in the finance department,” he said.

Henry said he is in the office every day and can assure the council Shah is not “the judge, jury and executioner.”

“Himanshu and I have a great relationship on a daily basis,” he said. “This is why I ask for his appointment because we get results.”

After the vote, Merwin suggested a complete search be conducted for the position and for those interested to be a township resident.

The position initially had been advertised in the newspaper, LinkedIn and the New Jersey League of Municipalities in May/June 2017.

Henry asked the council to extend Shah’s acting role in the business administrator position, which would extend for the next three months. The council granted the mayor’s request.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.