Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ridgewood under Fire for Closed Session

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ridgewood under Fire for Closed Session

Article excerpt

RIDGEWOOD -- A councilwoman with three sons in line for village police jobs claims several officials broke the law last month by meeting behind closed doors to discuss changes to Ridgewood's residency requirement.

"This belonged in open session," Councilwoman Susan Knudsen insisted at a recent council meeting, noting no specific village employee's position was discussed during the closed-door meeting, but rather a policy relating to Ridgewood's hiring practices.

"We did not follow the law," Knudsen said. "That's not an allegation, it's a fact."

But Village Attorney Matthew Rogers maintains officials acted appropriately, saying "the topic under discussion" by the council that evening "fit into the exceptions" outlined in the Open Public Meetings Act.

The village's labor attorney also concluded the council did not violate the law.

"Generally, at the time the decision was made, it is my understanding there was reason to believe such discussions could impact upon the terms and conditions of employment of specific prospective employees or employee groups," said Beth Hinsdale- Piller.

Knudsen opposes any change to the requirement.

"Our Ridgewood residents deserve a first shot" at openings for new municipal jobs, she said.

The issue comes several months after the council agreed to update the residency ordinance with a tier system -- one the state has since determined is not permitted.

That tier system, which officials claim was developed to attract the best qualified candidates to Ridgewood, was approved by the entire council last August.

It provided preference for village openings to Bergen County veterans, followed by other county residents, then residents of contiguous counties and, lastly, all other state residents.

The state issued a letter to village officials on Dec. 29, noting any municipal residency requirement a town adopts must give preference in job hiring to its own residents.

The council is considering opening up all municipal positions -- other than those affiliated with the Police or Fire Department -- to applicants statewide.

Knudsen said March 4 that Rogers asked her to recuse herself from the council's closed-session talks Feb. …

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