The Coastal Star

Manalapan: New manager is shown the door in swift reorganization

By Steve Plunkett

In the end, the firing was much quicker than the hiring.

Manalapan commissioners spent less than 70 minutes collapsing the duties of finance director into Town Manager Tom Heck’s job, dismissing him and offering Finance
Director Linda Stumpf the reorganized position.

Commissioners also chose Donald Brennan, a former zoning commissioner, to fill Commissioner Marilyn Hedberg’s seat. Hedberg resigned the day before, citing health issues in her family.

Heck had given a short report on making town government more effective and efficient, recommending that Manalapan digitize its records, install electronic water meters, and put energy-saving light bulbs and window film in Town Hall. After that, he said, he would look for ways to improve town processes, perform a classification and workload study, and finally identify opportunities for reorganization.

Commissioner Howard Roder wanted more immediate change.

“I feel it’s time to reorganize the town,’’ he said, moving to fire Heck on the spot. Consolidating the town manager and finance director positions would save the town about $150,000 a year, Roder said.

Heck’s quick termination was a sharp contrast to the five-plus months Manalapan spent finding him. The town put ads in the Wall Street Journal, Craigslist and government job websites and sorted through 300 resumes after longtime Town Manager Greg Dunham resigned in December. Heck, an Air Force Academy graduate and retired lieutenant colonel, started May 17.

Before the vote, Mayor Kelly Gottlieb said the town would have to hire outside help to manage capital improvements in the water system if it lost Heck’s engineering expertise, negating Roder’s promised savings. She also that the town had not even started its promised reorganization study and that she didn’t know if Stumpf was interested in the new job.

“So I personally feel we’re jumping the gun a little bit,’’ Gottlieb said.

The commission took a 15-minute recess to let Stumpf consider the offer and to let Gottlieb and Mayor Pro Tem Robert Evans gauge her interest.

“Linda would be willing to work as interim town manager,’’ Gottlieb confirmed when the meeting resumed.

Resident Clarence Elder urged commissioners to give townsfolk time to evaluate Stumpf before promoting her.

“It should not be rammed down anybody’s throat to install her, especially the taxpayers’,’’ Elder said. ‘’Most of the taxpayers won’t even know until sometime later what has taken place right now.’’

Vice Mayor Basil Diamond said Stumpf has been working for Manalapan for eight years, was acting town manager after Dunham left and before Heck arrived, and was essentially an unofficial assistant town manager most of the time before that.

“It’s not that we’re unfamiliar with her abilities and her experience and her loyalty to the town,’’ Diamond said.

The reorganization was approved 4-1 with Commissioner William Bernstein dissenting.

Stumpf and commissioners will negotiate her contract before the November commission meeting. She asked that Heck be allowed to stay on two weeks to brief her on issues Manalapan faces. Heck, who was paid $123,000 a year, also will get sixmonths’ pay as severance.

Roder said his plan should not have caught anyone off guard. He proposed it during his unsuccessful run for commissioner in 2008, during a summer budget hearing
and again at the September commission meeting.

“This is not something I just came up with,’’ Roder said.

After the meeting, Stumpf called her swift job change both ‘’surprising’’ and ‘’very flattering.’’

“I’m still digesting everything,’’ she said. “I feel that I can do the job — I have no doubt.’’

Diamond said he spoke with Brennan before nominating him to replace Hedberg. Bernstein nominated Daphne Weaver-Fessler, an Architectural Commission member and onetime New York assistant district attorney. Brennan was chosen on a 4-1 vote with
Bernstein dissenting.

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