Frustrated by what it considers Mayor Stephen Ellis' unresponsiveness, Phillipsburg Town Council vowed on Tuesday night to take action to reduce his salary by $20,000.
Council Vice President Frank McVey presented an analogy that described the council, the legislative body that controls spending, as the entity that shops for groceries. The mayor, as the chief administrator, cooks the meal for the citizens.
"The food is rotting," McVey said. "You can't eat a spoiled meal."
After a brief executive session at the end of the regular meeting, council President Robert Fulper announced that an ordinance will have to be adopted per the town charter to adjust the mayor's salary, which is $65,000. He said the council would pursue the ordinance.
The call to reduce the salary came from council member Mark Lutz, who ran against Ellis in last month's primary for the Democratic nomination for mayor. Ellis defeated Lutz, securing nearly 60% of the vote. Ellis will face Republican Todd Tersigni in the general election in November.
Moments before making the call to reduce the mayor's salary, Lutz said he took offense to comments made by Ellis in the press during the primary campaign. He took particular offense to a comment that referred to him as not the "sharpest tool in the shed."
During his comments, Fulper directed town attorney Richard Wenner to research what it would take to change the current form of strong mayor government.
When the council and the mayor can't work together, "the people hurt," Fulper said. He said the end goal is to bring about "a unified Phillipsburg."
McVey said Ellis' lack of participation in council meetings is by design. McVey said it's impossible to work with a mayor that never shows up at meetings, even when invited, and uses social media to communicate with the public.
The Republican-controlled council and Ellis have been at odds for some time, particularly over the police department's temporary relocation and its permanent home. Mold discovered at the Corliss Avenue municipal complex in 2016 forced most town departments from the location, but the police remain stationed there.
The two sides have feuded regularly over the matter, with the council saying it's the mayor's job to come up with a solution for the police department.
Most recently at its June 5 workshop meeting, the council discussed suspending action on ordinances and resolutions and even paying bills until the mayor would take action on the police department. But that was dropped Tuesday night. Despite its relationship with the mayor, the council must do its job, Fulper said.
Fulper said he wants to immediately relocate the police department to a safe, temporary space but said he does not support a $4 million renovation of the former armory on Heckman Street when the estimate to renovate the Corliss Avenue building is $6.5 million. Fulper said there are move-in ready properties in town that could be occupied by the police department until Corliss Avenue is ready for reoccupation.