Howell council members vote to table proposed salary ordinance

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HOWELL – Four members of the Howell Township Council have voted to table an ordinance that proposed providing an annual 2% salary increase for council members once the current maximum salary of $12,000 had been reached.

The current salary range for a council member is $7,000 to $12,000.

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The ordinance was introduced on Jan. 18. Republican Deputy Mayor Pamela Richmond, Republican Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell and Republican Councilwoman Suzanne Brennan voted “yes” on a motion to introduce the ordinance.

Democratic Mayor Theresa Berger and Democratic Councilman John Bonevich voted “no” on the motion to introduce the ordinance.

A public hearing and possible vote to adopt the ordinance was scheduled for the council’s Feb. 1 meeting.

The ordinance stated that “when the compensation for the Township Council reaches the $12,000 maximum end of the (salary) range, then commencing Jan. 1 of each year thereafter, the salary of members of the council shall be increased annually by 2%, which is consistent with the annual increase set forth in various township collective bargaining agreements.”

Newly elected or appointed members of the council would be compensated the same amount as all other members are being compensated, according to the ordinance.

During the Feb. 1 council meeting, the salary ordinance was a topic of discussion and eventually tabled. Berger, Richmond, O’Donnell and Brennan were present at the meeting. Bonevich was absent.

During the council reports portion of the meeting, O’Donnell said she believed the “whole matter (regarding the proposed salary ordinance) has been really politicized, to an unbelievable extent. And that is unfortunate, very unfortunate.

“I would like to say that when this first started, I thought of this as a forward-thinking policy, putting a salary guide in place for the future, which again would be something forward-thinking.

“However, we could not even get the (introduction of the ordinance) unified by a vote and that is sad because … what it means is I think it turned very political,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said she was concerned that Bonevich, who was absent from the Feb. 1 meeting, has an “issue with serving two masters.”

“Unfortunately, and I don’t know if this is a factor, but I know the mayor (makes) a very good living with $500,000. John Bonevich is also receiving money from the mayor’s company. So I don’t know if that factors into the ‘no’ vote of the salary ordinance. I would hope not.

“I don’t know if Councilman Bonevich has an issue with serving two masters, but he certainly does seem to vote along the same lines as the mayor.

“With that (said), I would suggest to this council that we forgo having a second reading (on the ordinance) until such time as this could be in the light; it should be looked at and that is a forward-thinking policy, a salary guide based on all of the right things and not a political football,” O’Donnell said.

During the discussion, Berger said, “I don’t have to apologize because I am a successful businesswoman. I don’t have to, there is no reason for that. My salary has nothing to do with what I do as a mayor.”

Asked for a comment regarding O’Donnell’s remarks, Bonevich told the Tri-Town News he and Berger “were outraged when council members O’Donnell, Richmond and Brennan voted to raise their salaries by 60%.

“The Republican council members say they really need the money, but that does not give them the right to take it from Howell taxpayers. That’s why we voted no.

“We were not going to let them get away with this money grab. We did not have the votes to stop them, but once the taxpayers heard about the 60% pay raise, the Republican council members were forced to back down,” Bonevich said.

O’Donnell subsequently made a motion to remove the salary ordinance from the meeting agenda. Berger, O’Donnell, Richmond and Brennan voted to table the ordinance.

Although a public hearing was not conducted on the salary ordinance because it was tabled, residents commented on the matter during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Regarding O’Donnell’s statements, resident Barbara Dixel said, “Your personal job … has nothing to do with you being on this council and serving the public. The mayor is the mayor, she also is the CEO of a major health services firm, it has nothing to do with her being the mayor. Whatever you people do for a living is what you do for a living. It is your business.”

Addressing O’Donnell, resident Sheri Reavis said, “One of my concerns is that you referenced the mayor’s salary being in excess of $500,000 and that Councilman Bonevich also works for the mayor’s company.

“I am concerned your derogatory statement was attacking Councilman Bonevich, asking if he was serving two masters, especially that it occurred when he is not even at this meeting to be able to say anything or defend himself,” she said.

Reavis took issue with O’Donnell’s implication that Bonevich votes in alignment with the mayor because of a work relationship.

“Councilwoman O’Donnell, can you tell me how many times in 2021 your vote was not the same as Deputy Mayor Richmond’s vote?” Reavis asked.

O’Donnell could not immediately answer that question. She said, “My concern when I spoke about withdrawing the (salary ordinance) is that this is causing so much discourse in this town that I don’t feel it is in the best interest of the town and that’s really why I want to pull it” from the agenda.

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