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Tuesday night’s Montclair Town Council was a circus as 120 residents crammed into the Municipal Building meeting room, mostly to express support for chief financial officer, Padmaja Rao, who has charged that Township Manager Timothy Stafford created a “hostile working environment” for women. In her lawsuit, described here, Rao says Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller, who is also president of New Jersey’s teacher union and is said to be contemplating a gubernatorial run, responded to her complaints by launching “a retaliatory investigation…to create a derogatory record of her job performance and conduct, which could be used to undermine Rao in her work and potentially terminate her employment.”
Back in October the Council voted to put Stafford on administrative leave with pay, pending an investigation conducted by a private firm called Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper. They have yet to release their report although three other women have confirmed Rao’s allegations.
This story was first reported by Montclair Local.
At the meeting Tuesday night, which continued into early Wednesday morning, many residents urged the Council to fire Stafford. Some took aim at the Mayor:
As residents took their turns, some in the seats chanted ‘Resign’ at Spiller.
Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis put forth a resolution (see below) for a public vote but the township attorney said it wasn’t permissible under the Faulkner Act, which lays out the proper governance for municipalities. The Council unanimously approved a substitute resolution that says, “the Council of the Township of Montclair has determined it is in the best interest of the township to go in a different management direction,” which gives Stafford 30 days to respond.
Here is Yacobellis’s resolution:
“Whereas, the Township through its Affirmative Action Officer conducted an internal investigation concerning a personnel matter; and
“Whereas, on October 17, 2022, a lawsuit was filed by Padmaja Rao in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division: Essex County concerning the Montclair Township Manager; and
“Whereas, on October 28, 2022, a lawsuit was filed by Juliet Lee in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division: Essex County concerning the Montclair Township Manager; and
“Whereas, in January of this year, two former employees: Katie York and Celia Trembulak submitted sworn statements to the court affirming accusations similar to the ones made by Ms. Rao and Ms. Lee; and
“Whereas, the Mayor and Council of the Township of Montclair consider these to be extraordinary circumstances requiring extraordinary action;
“Now, be it hereby resolved by the Township Council of the Township of Montclair that Township Manager Timothy Stafford is hereby removed from suspension and terminated, effective immediately.”