By Tim O’Meilia
Manalapan town commissioners voted, by a 4-2 count, to apologize to Town Manager Linda Stumpf for one commissioner’s allegations of misuse of her car allowance.
An examination of town payroll records by the town’s outside auditors cleared Stumpf of any improper use of the $400 car allowance based on her contract.
“All of these (W2) amounts agree to the penny with the detailed payroll records,” Terry Morton of the audit firm of Nowlen, Holt & Miner told commissioners April 23. “It was handled properly and in accordance with the town manager’s employment contract.”
Mayor David Cheifetz ordered the special examination, which cost $3,000-$3,500, after Commissioner Howard Roder accused Stumpf last month of trying to hide the car allowance. He demanded her firing and the return of $5,200 in allowance money.
Stumpf said a recording error on a budget spreadsheet put the car allowance in the overtime line item in 2011, although figures for 2010 and 2012 were correctly noted.
“I wasn’t trying to hide anything. It was a simple clerical error,” she said. The auditing firm agreed that payroll and tax records were correct.
Roder also said Stumpf should be driving a town-owned car instead of taking the car allowance.
Town Attorney Trela White disagreed with Roder’s interpretation of Stumpf’s contract.
The contract says, “The town agrees to pay the town manager $400 per month as an automobile allowance, or to provide an existing town-owned vehicle for her use, if available, and to provide insurance, gasoline and maintenance for the town-owned vehicle at no cost to the town manager.”
White said the town can’t be forced to provide her a car and that it’s typically the manager’s choice whether to take an available car or the allowance.
Stumpf took the car allowance for two years but now drives a 2010 Ford Explorer previously driven by the retired police chief. The current chief drives a 2009 GMC Sierra SUV.
Four commissioners said the accusation was unfounded and Commissioner Chauncey Johnstone added that the commission wasted 45 minutes discussing it. “You can keep digging and digging ’til you reach China, but these are the facts,” he said.
Commissioner Louis DeStefano said Roder should take a different approach with his concerns. “Go to the person involved, have a discussion with them and perhaps then an issue like this can be resolved,” he said.
Cheifetz suggested Roder apologize to Stumpf for “impugning her character” but Roder said he had nothing to apologize for.
Commissioner John Murphy joined Roder in opposing the apology. But, unlike Roder, who wants to force Stumpf to drive a town car, Murphy said she should take the allowance and put another police car on patrol.
The town has four patrol cars. The chief and lieutenant also are issued cars.
The apology did not end Roder’s dissatisfaction with Stumpf’s performance during her two-plus years as the town’s top administrator. Her contract expires Sept. 30.
He repeated previous concerns that Stumpf previously doctored the town’s crime statistics to persuade commissioners that they replace their police force with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
He also said she badly handled the town’s water rates.
“These issues revolve around the question of good judgment, character, ethics and trustworthiness, which in my opinion are sorely lacking,” Roder said.
In other business, commissioners:
--Agreed 5-1 to spend $31,000 for a new police car, although they will dip into town reserves for most of the money. Commissioners said they wanted to create an annual replacement schedule for town vehicles. Stumpf said one exists but during budget sessions the last two years, the commission decided against replacing the police cars. Roder opposed.
--Approved unanimously limiting the use of portable storage units to seven days with the possibility of a seven-day extension by the town manager and exceptions for bad weather.
--Delayed spending $2,200 on a landscaping plan for Town Hall until the budget year beginning Oct. 1.