Native son going west for new job

Photo by Ron Leir/ Victor Canning


By Ron Leir


From Essex to Morris.

That’s the route being taken by Township Manager Victor Canning who is resigning his current job in Belleville on March 14 and, the next day, will take over as the new township administrator in Montville, where he also happens to live.

Canning, who was hired by the Montville Township Committee on Feb. 14 at a yearly salary of $144,000, submitted his letter of resignation to the Belleville Township Clerk’s Offi ce on Feb. 15, thereby giving one month’s notice of his departure.

Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble said: “I’m sorry to see Victor go. He’s been here (as township administrator) six years. I think we worked well together and I wish him the best in his new job.”

Kimble said he would form a search committee – “probably Councilman (John) Notari, Councilman (Michael) Nicosia and myself” – to find a replacement for Canning.

“If no one’s been hired by March 15, we’ll probably make an interim appointment,” the mayor said. Another key fiscal employee preparing to leave is Township Tax Collector Joan Conway, who has also been functioning as an interim chief fiscal officer since August 2008. She’s been the collector for the past nine years. Kimble said that Conway’s slated to retire the end of April.

Kimble said he was “a little surprised” by Canning’s decision to move on “but I don’t blame him,” he added. “I believe their (Montville) manager makes more (than in Belleville) and it’s where he lives so I would expect that he would take advantage of that. I hope that our next manager will know Belleville the same as Victor which would be a plus for us.”

Canning currently earns $129,557 a year.

When a reporter visited him last week at the Belleville Municipal Building, Canning – who says his family “goes back 100 years” in Belleville – already had his desk cleaned out and most of his personal items packed in boxes.

“I want to thank the mayor and council for affording me the opportunity to lead Belleville the last six years and for affording me life lessons,” Canning said. “This is where I’m from and I’m always going to hold a special place in heart for Belleville. Even after I’m gone, I want the town to know I’m only a phone call away.”

Canning started his career as a civil servant as a member of the Township Council from 1994 to 1998, serving as mayor from 1996 to 1997 in the process. In 1998 he was appointed to the Belleville Police Department and was a police officer through 2006 when he was appointed township manager.

Recently, Canning – as the township’s policy executor – ran into opposition from some council members on funding certain capital projects and was forced to back away from a $3.45 million bond ordinance after those members organized a residents’ petition drive to block it.

As a result, Canning now concedes that plans for a new firehouse in the Silver Lakes section are dead “because of the petitions.” Councilmen Steve Rovell and Michael Nicosia objected to what they considered awkward location for the new facility and questioned whether the Fire Dept. would have enough personnel to staff two companies there.

But for Canning, the plan still made sense. “To give up $634,000 that NJ Transit was willing to give us for the project doesn’t make sound economic principle but the voters have spoken,” Canning said. “We have met with NJ Transit asking them to reconsider using that money for rehabilitating our existing firehouse,” he said. “I think we’re missing a golden opportunity here.”

In the meantime, Canning said he believes the township will find a way to proceed with some of the other projects that were included as part of the now-defeated bond ordinance, such as the rebuilding of the Friendly House as a one-story facility with the help of $400,000 in county CDBG funding. But instead of using the facility for community recreation, Canning figures it can accommodate an expanded early childhood program. “We can double our pre-school program,” he said. And part of the new building can be opened to seniors for such activities as line-dancing and yoga, he said.

As for other items included in the ill-fated ordinance, Canning said the township will reallocate about $600,000 in capital money to buy public works equipment, repave various streets, build a new playground, fix municipal properties with leaky roofs and install an new HVAC system at Township Hall.

Despite his differences with the manager over the bond issue, Rovell credited Canning for his hard work. “He’s done the best job he could possibly due,” Rovell said.

Still, Rovell noted, “It’s an untimely departure, given that you’re in the midst of putting a budget together for the new fiscal year. But I think we’ve got some talented people who can see this through.”

An adversary in labor negotiations, PBA Local 28 President Bobby Kane, called Canning “a very fair man who looked out for the township of Belleville in tough financial times. Victor did an admirable job, considering the situation.”

“We’ve had our battles, of course,” Kane added, “but he was fair and easy to work with. He always had an open door policy. He did a good job for the township.”

Of the push-back he sometimes experienced, Canning was philosophical. “It’s like a family – you don’t always agree,” he said. “Sometimes the road gets bumpy. But I’m leaving Belleville a lot better place than when I found it. For the most part, I’ve managed to keep taxes under control, we’ve just fixed up our stadium with our turf project and we’ve been fixing our infrastructure – new water meters and water lines.”

In the last few years, Canning had prepared municipal layoff plans for both uniformed and civilian employees but the township averted those economic dismissals after Canning negotiated union concessions and allowed positions vacated via retirements or death to go unfilled.

Employee morale has improved under his watch, Canning asserted. “This place was a dysfunctional family until I got here,” he said. “I’ve given it a sense of government service.”

In the time left for him in Belleville, Canning hopes to wrap up bargaining with the unions representing rank-and-file and superior officers in the Fire Dept. for new labor pacts.

“I may be able to get those done before I leave,” he said. “Then I’ll have all my (employee labor) contracts done without having to go to arbitration.”

Learn more about the writer ...