New BA takes office in Kearny


He’s an attorney, he’s held public office on three levels and he’s certainly got some know-how in running a municipality.

That, in brief, describes Robert J. Smith, who was sworn in as Kearny’s new municipal administrator April 25 at a salary of $125,000 a year.

He replaces Michael Martello, who retired this year after 25 years with the town.

Since 2011, Smith has served as business administrator for the Washington Township in Sewell, a bedroom community in Gloucester County, eight miles outside Philadelphia.

There, he oversaw a municipal workforce of 235 full- and part-time employees with an annual budget of $38 million and with an independently operated fire department.

Now he’ll be expected to ride herd on a municipal budget twice as big as Washington Township’s and guide transitions of at least two departments – Public Works and Police – whose heads are slated to retire later this year.

Still, Mayor Alberto Santos has every confidence in Smith succeeding in his new mission.

“We have a new administrator who is smart and who brings a lot of experience to the office and I’mlooking forward to working with him,” Santos said. It’s a key position for me and for the Town Council because it’s important that this person can not only administer the town but also execute the policies enacted by the council and by me. Bob has the necessary skill set and I think he will do a very good job.”

Among the “high priority” items on which Santos figures to focus the administrator’s attention include the planned makeover of the Gunnell Oval recreation complex, overseeing municipal departments and pursuing redevelopment opportunities.

The town has slated a final public hearing on the proposed conceptual recreational layout for the Oval on May 17 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

Smith, who has a political science degree from Rutgers University (1987) and a law degree from Widener University School of Law (1993), got involved politically early on.

He served as a Gloucester County freeholder (1998-2000), state Assemblyman for the 4th District (2000-2006) and interim mayor of Washington Township (2011) before taking on the duties of township administrator.

While in that job, Smith said he “generated an additional $250,000 in annual revenue” for the township “by negotiating a voluntary PILOT agreement with Kennedy Health Systems, a non-profit hospital,” saved the township $70,000 a year for six years “by retiring a 2006 general obligation bond and [refinancing] at a lower interest rate” and secured a credit upgrade from Moody’s Investor Service.

Smith’s resume states that during his time before the bar, “approximately one-third of my legal practice was dedicated to land use and natural resources law, including … wetlands mitigation …” – something that should fit in well in Kearny, given the town’s litigation with the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority over the attempted closure of the Keegan landfill and with Hartz Mountain over the disposition of certain meadows leases.

As part of what he lists as local “community involvement,” Smith served as “founding member and chairman” of Hope Community Charter School in Camden from 2010 to 2012 and as its “volunteer attorney” from 2013 to the present. Kearny is the location of Hudson Arts & Science Charter School which is funded, in part, by the Kearny Board of Education.

Smith served as assistant coach of Washington Township’s boys lacrosse team – which could be useful to Kearny’s Recreation Department whose director Ralph Cattafi is trying to find someone to lead such a program in town.

In Kearny, meanwhile, Smith said he’s “familiarizing myself with prior town audits, budgets and the ordinances governing the town and begun a review of employee labor contracts.”

His overarching goal is “to dive deeper for a deeper understanding of how government works in Kearny” and, to that end, he said he’s talked at length to Martello who, he said, “has and will remain an asset to the town of Kearny by virtue of his massive knowledge of the town’s history.”

As he visits with each department head, Smith said he presents each with the same four questions which he calls his “SWOT” list: “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.”

Smith, who said he learned of the B.A. opening in Kearny through the classified ads in a N.J. State League of Municipalities publication, said he’s “very pleased to be here. Kearny seems to be a caring, tight-knit community where people work together to achieve the best way of life.”

Smith and his wife Jennifer, science department chairwoman at Gloucester County Institute of Technology, have three children.

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