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Hillside payroll
Councilman David Cummings. FILE PHOTO

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

A Montclair council member who works with Hillside’s government is caught up in a dispute over paying multiple officials in that township — and rebutting accusations his position there is a “no-show job.”

Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings said he was one of three Hillside employees not yet paid for the most recent pay period — but wouldn’t say how much he gets paid. Other Hillside officials who could provide that information have either not responded to messages from Montclair Local, or have declined comment. Municipal employee salaries are a matter of public record.

The Hillside council also recently held a special meeting to pay Mayor Dahlia Vertreese and the township’s business administrator, after missing an earlier deadline to pay them, NJ.com reported last week

The NJ.com report cited Hillside Township Council President Gerald Pateesh Freedman saying the council hadn’t yet received any information from Vertreese about job titles or duties for the three employees in her administration, and that they’re individuals the council never authorized hiring.  In a press statement sent to Montclair Local, Freedman accused Cummings of having a ”no-show job.”

Cummings told Montclair Local he’s a confidential aide to the mayor, with responsibilities including communications and public relations. His status is as a part-time employee with flexible hours, he said, and he has been in that capacity since April. 

“Freedman didn’t say I had a no-show job when he participated in the Hanukkah and the Christmas videos produced for the residents,” Cummings said. “He’s well aware since I’ve been there the website was rebooted, and the local Comcast and Verizon channels are up with information for the residents.”

NJ.com quoted Vertreese saying Cummings and another employee, Imo Rice, who works with Cummings in communications, make about $25,000 annually combined. The third employee was previously an administrative secretary but did not meet state Civil Service requirements for the job, so now helps with COVID-19 outreach and sending mail, at a rate of about $80,000 a year, the mayor told NJ.com.

Vertreese did not return a request for comment on the matter from Montclair Local. The township’s chief financial officer declined comment, saying it was a personnel matter. 

“If you get ANY answers let me know,” Freedman wrote to Montclair Local in an email. “You’ll have gotten more info than the council has gotten.”

Cummings is the founder and owner of D.E.K. Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in digital media and communications for private companies and government agencies. However, he said his work with Hillside was separate from his work with D.E.K. 

He said the dispute is a matter of the council in Hillside using “the budget as a weapon to prevent the mayor from having a staff to serve the residents.”

“All you have to do is watch a council meeting and you will see dysfunction and disrespect. This is not something new,” Cummings said. 

Vertreese, in a Jan. 11 newsletter, criticized the council for not taking steps to pass a temporary budget, and accused the council of sowing division that disrupted the business of the town. 

Freedman, in his press statement, described raises Vertreese had recently given officials, including Hillside’s business administrator, after residents faced a tax increase. He said Vertreese in recent years authorized hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending the council hadn’t approved.

The NJ.com report notes the mayor and council have sued each other multiple times in recent years over who has the authority to pay bills — with a case from last year still ongoing.

Freedman also said information on Hillside’s finances had been forwarded to the state comptroller, and told residents to “stay tuned.”

Cummings, in a separate matter, was honored this week by the Essex County Commissioners at their annual African-American History Month celebration, for decades of service to the Montclair and county communities.