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Hamilton Street Business District Trustees’ Future Murky; Required Elections Never Held

Board held no elections in 11 years; required to do so annually

hamiltonstreetbuinessdistrict

Photo: Hamilton Street Business District

Only three of the 12 members of the Hamilton Street Business and Community Corporation Board of Trustees were properly  installed into their positions, the Township Council was told at its Nov. 12 meeting.

Township Manager Bob Vornlocker told the council that a review he conducted of the bylaws and other records showed that the trustees had not held one required election since the board was created in 2002.

That means that the only legitimate trustees are three council members: Mayor Brian Levine and Councilmen Carl R.A. Wright (Ward 4) and James Vassanella (Ward 5), Vornlocker said.

“It has become apparent that the Board of Trustees had not been installed according to their bylaws,” Vornlocker said.

The board oversees the rejuvenation of the Hamilton Street Business District. The district runs along Hamilton Street from about Franklin Boulevard to nearly the New Brunswick border.

He said a review of the trustees’ books over the last two years showed no improprieties as far as the group’s finances were concerned. The group controls an annual budget of about $80,000, he said.

“It would appear that all checks issued were issued properly and seemed to be for legitimate expenses,” Vornlocker said. “Without digging deeper, that was the outcome of that investigation.”

What’s less clear is the status of votes and decisions made by the trustees.

Among those decisions is the hiring of former Mayor and U.S. Representative Mike Pappas as the group’s executive director.

The council went into executive session after the Nov. 12 board meeting to discuss the situation. Mayor Brian Levine said after that meeting that Pappas no longer held the job.

“The board thought they had the ability to hire, Mike though they had the ability to hire,” Levine said. “It was all done in good faith. But now that  we found out it’s wrong, everything has to cease.”

Levine said the situation was “a mess,” but, he said, “it’s cleanable.”

He said the council will “go forward and examine our options.”

“We’ve got to figure out where do we go from here,” Levine said. “We can’t leave it floundering.”

Township attorney Louis Rainone did not immediately respond to emailed questions and a telephone message concerning the trustee’s status.

Vornlocker told the council, without elaborating, that he first started looking into the issue in early October, after he’d been notified about two “concerns:”

  • The finances of the 501 (c)(3) corporation, and
  • “Recent appointments and dismissals of Board of Trustee members.”

Vornlocker said there was a special meeting of the trustees called for Oct. 9 but, as a result of an early meting he held to discuss “questions as to the membership of the Board of Trustees, there was no special meeting.”

“Subsequent meetings were held with people believed to be members of the Board of Trustees,” Vornlocker said. “Mr. Rainone and I told them that this matter would be turned over to council.”

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