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EXCLUSIVE: Emergency Management Council Members Listed on City Website Are Unaware the Council Exists

Many City Boards & Commissions Are Inactive or Dysfunctional as They Struggle with Sharp Lack of Accountability
Robert Rawls
Emergency Management Council Chairman Robert Rawls (standing), and city spokesman Russell Marchetta (right).

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—If you went to the city's website and believed what you read, you would think that a group of emergency responders and public safety officials were meeting once a month to discuss important issues related to emergency management.

But you would be dead wrong.  Not only does the Emergency Management Council not have meetings, but at least two of its own members said they had never heard of the council, and it appears that the group exists only on paper.

When New Brunswick Today arrived to attend the June 12 meeting of the council, firefighters were suprised to have a visitor.  NBFD Captain William Borke provided great hospitality to New Brunswick Today, but when we asked him if he was a member of the Emergency Management Council he said he had never heard of it.

He then placed a call to Thomas Dobkowski, another member of the board who also had not heard of the council.

Finally, Borke attempted to contact the Emergency Management Council's chair Robert Rawls, who also serves as the city Fire Director and Emergency Management Coordinator.  Rawls, who was on vacation, did not answer the call.

Two days after we started asking questions about the council (and discovered that it did not exist), the City Clerk's office updated the city's directory of boards and commissions, removing the part that said the council "meet second Wednesday of the month at Fire Headquarters at 10:00am."

City Clerk Dan Torrisi confirmed the change to the directory of boards and commissions was in response to New Brunswick Today's questions, and said he had no idea how the sentence about monthly meetings got into the document in the first place.

"There was a statement in there regarding their meeting times, which I don't know where that came from because it's not in the ordinance, it's not in the state statute," Torrisi told New Brunswick Today.

As we reported last month, the situation of many of the city's boards and commissions is dire.  Many are inactive or defunct, and others, like the Environmental Commission, are often unable to muster enough members to conduct business.

The governmental woes continued into June as the city's Traffic Commisson was forced to cancel its June 6 meeting when its chairman and several members failed to show.  Only the Planning Board and Board of Education have had successful meetings so far this month.

According to state law and legal precedent, filling most of the positions are the responsibility of the city's mayor.  Each municipality in the state is required to create a local emergency management council, according to N.J.S.A. App. A:9-41.

By law, the council should consist of fifteen members who are appointed by the municipal appointing authority, in this case Mayor James Cahill.  But the city's website currently lists 19 members on the council.

According to an opinion issued by the NJ Attorney General's office, the duties of the council are:

  • to assist the municipality in establishing the various local volunteer agencies needed to meet the requirements of all local emergency management activities
  • to establish an adequate organization to assist in supervising and coordinating the emergency management activities of the local municipality

Other boards that are struggling or inactive include the Cable TV Advisory Board, the Citizens Taxi Service Council, the Human Relations Commission, and the Minority Business Enterprise Council.

Four of five City Council members did not respond to email requests for comment on the problems with the boards.

Councilman John Anderson was the only member of the City Council to respond:

"I have seen the boards being filled with members but that is the right of the mayor to make those appointments. I am sure when he finds the right people he will do what is best in appointing them and not just appoint any individual just to fill the spots. I am sure we will continuously work on getting those seats filled."

Russell Marchetta, a spokesman for Mayor James Cahill previously misled the council on May 15 when he said all of the boards and commissions were "up to speed on membership."  In fact, there were at least thirteen openings left vacant.

Marchetta, himself a member of the phantom Emergency Management Council, did not return a phone message or email asking about the new revelation that the council is not functioning.

The City Council will meet tonight at 5:30pm on the top floor of City Hall, 78 Bayard Street.