A township resident aggressively questioned the Brick Township council Tuesday night, asking why former township chief financial officer and business administrator Scott Pezarras, who retired last year, was back on the payroll as a paid consultant.
Pezarras, who served in various positions within Brick government for 32 years, retired as chief financial officer in June after formerly serving as business administrator – the top position in municipal government. He retired at a salary of $179,062, and was replaced first by John Clifford at a salary of $100,000, who quickly resigned and took a job with the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority. After his resignation, Mayor John Ducey tapped Maureen Laffey-Berg, who had served as Pezarras’ deputy, for the position.
By January, however, Pezarras was receiving a new round of compensation from the township for two separate purposes – a consulting role to assist Laffey-Berg, and preparation as a witness in the trial between Brick and real estate developer Jack Morris over the former Foodtown site.
“We have a business administrator, we have a chief financial officer, I think this is ridiculous,” said resident George Scott, demanding to know the details of Pezarras’ new arrangement with the township. “I want a heavy explanation as to why this is going on.”
Though Pezarras’ consulting salary was not divulged at the meeting, current Business Administrator Joanne Bergin told Shorebeat Wednesday that Pezarras is being paid $75 per hour, with an amount not to exceed $17,000 total.
“We do not anticipate approaching the aggregate but wanted to have a cushion should there be any need for additional services,” said Joanne.
At the public meeting Tuesday night, Bergin explained that the township offered Laffey-Berg assistance in her first year of preparing a township budget that reaches over $100 million.
“We talked, in-house with our CFO, the first year doing the budget, if she wanted some general support,” said Bergin. “We felt comfortable supporting her in that. He’s just providing some support and guidance in her transition year.”
“Having our former CFO with more than 30 years of experience working on our budget was a mutual decision made by administration and finance to ensure a smooth transition in this first budget since his retirement a few months ago,” Bergin told Shorebeat in an e-mail. “We do not anticipate any needs for support beyond this year’s budget.”
Pezarras is also being compensated for preparation as a witness in the Foodtown trial, which is ongoing. He has yet to testify, said Township Attorney Kevin Starkey.
“There are piles of documents, and Mr. Pezarras is probably one of the key people in that trial,” Starkey said. “It wasn’t good enough to say, ‘just come in,’ we wanted him to be well prepared for that trial. He’s probably the key witness for us in that trial.”
Scott said he still disagreed with the expenditure on Pezarras’ services.
“If this person was there a very short time, I would say yes, but this person got a raise and I think she is qualified for the job,” he said, of Laffey-Berg. “Now we have to bring somebody back and pay that person? I’m just totally offended. Either you picked the right person or you didn’t pick the right person.”