Key town employees leaving next year

KEARNY –

Like the N.Y. Yankees, Kearny will be looking to fill some key positions in its lineup because the veterans now in those slots will be moving on soon.

Michael Martello, who serves a dual role as the town’s construction official/town administrator, has filed his retirement papers, as has Kim Bennett, the town’s personnel director.

Unless either has a change of heart, both are scheduled to go Aug. 1, 2017.

By then, Bennett said she will have logged “25 years and nine months” with Kearny, having started as a clerk-typist in recreation, then shifting to finance and, after that, payroll.

“I’ve had the privilege of watching the personnel office grow in to the full functioning office that it is today. I’ve had the pleasure of implementing ADP’s self-service website and mobile app available to all employees,” Bennett said. “I’ve had a great career with Kearny thanks to every employee I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with, including the Police and Fire Chiefs.”

Between 1996 – when she was put in charge of personnel – and today, the number of full- and part-time town employees has fallen, from 465 to 375.

Next to leave town employment will be Police Chief John Dowie, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 by November 2017.

Another employee who has long contributed to the smooth running of the town’s planning and zoning boards and who will have sufficient time earned to depart next year is Susan Evanchick. Her job title is administrative clerk but she really functions as municipal land use administrator.

“Her institutional knowledge is probably one of the best in the state,” Martello said. “That makes her virtually irreplaceable.”

And the town’s two public-health investigators, Cathy Santangelo and William Pettigrew, become eligible for pensions next year.

Which means that Mayor Alberto Santos and the Town Council have to start thinking about replacing a lot of their heavy hitters.

Martello, who filed his pension application last Friday, has served in his two jobs since 2009, and, as such, has an unenviable workload which compels him to be available pretty much on a 24/7 basis. 

Last Wednesday night, for instance, he had to forego a meeting of the Planning Board, on which he sits, to supervise the aftermath of the removal of a leaking underground fuel tank on Grove St. to make sure the street was properly cleaned and passable.

A 1978 Kearny High graduate who went on to get a degree in finance and economics at Seton Hall University, then worked as a trader on Wall Street before joining his dad’s construction business, Martello switched over to the public sector in 1992 when he was hired as a town building inspector to fill a vacancy.

He worked his way up the construction office ladder, becoming a building sub-code official, fire protection inspector, fire sub-code official and then in 2001, construction code official.

But Martello’s progression was very nearly derailed when, in 1996, he said he was offered a job in Clifton. And he said he was ready to go “but [current Councilwoman] Carol Jean [Doyle] talked me out of it.”

And today, he’s thankful she did. “I love Kearny. I grew up here. I have family and friends here. My grandfather and father built homes all over town.”

In 2009, after the death of Bob Armstrong, he was also named town administrator. “I was only supposed to do it for two and a half years until they found a permanent successor but the mayor told me to stay so I just kept doing it,” he said.

Now Martello figures it’s enough. “My wife, who did pensions and payroll for the town, is retired. Both of us had cancer. And my wife said, ‘Let’s enjoy life. It’s time.’ See, that’s what makes retirement sweet.”

Next year, Martello said he and his wife will be moving into their new home in South Carolina. “But I’ll be coming back to visit my relations and I still have business interests here,” he added.

In the meantime, of course, there’s still the business of Kearny that beckons.

“We’re advertising for building sub-code official which has been filled by my assistant Tony Chisari and myself. And we also need additional building inspectors,” he said, and those jobs are needed more than ever, given the increasing pace of residential and commercial redevelopment and construction. “That’s my biggest concern,” he said.

It will be up to the mayor and council to decide whether to divide the duties of administrator and construction code official after he leaves or find someone to do both, Martello said.

Martello said he’ll keep pressing for the owners of the old bat factory property on Passaic Ave. – where an old smokestack awaits demolition – proceed with redevelopment plans while their LSRP (licensed site remediation professional) teams with the state DEP on cleanup plans. “They just can’t seem to get it going,” he said.

On the other hand, Martello said, the town is sure to see new ratables in coming years from such projects as the Passaic Ave. mall revival by DVL Kearny LLC with a BJ’s as its anchor, the renovations at the Kearny Point industrial site and the expansion of the River Terminal complex.

“Over the next five to 10 years, Kearny will be out of its [economic] funk,” he predicted.

As part of his legacy, Martello cited the “advances in technology” made by the town. “I put in the town’s first network computer system and we’ve gone from dial-up connection to fiber optic. We’re very advanced from where we were when I started.”

He also mentioned economies in operating costs as another accomplishment. “We’ve reduced starting salaries by 10% and cut the maximum on the salary guide by 15% and added steps to reach maximum,” he said, and now, he added, the town can afford to hire replacements at lower rates of pay.

One frustration is the laggard pace of the town’s efforts to secure outside grants for the long-envisioned waterfront bike trail. “We started the process two years ago but dealing with the public sector it takes forever to get things done,” he said. Just to get Cardoza Park completed, after remediating the site, took a decade, he added.

  

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.