After 40 years in public service, Matt Watkins, Bloomfield’s township administrator for the last five year, retires March 31, 2021. The township put out a call for applicants for the role in January. But the initial search didn’t turn up the right candidates, according to First Ward Councilwoman Jenny Mundell.

“Many of the folks we interviewed were lovely, qualified people who just weren’t the right fit…So we now have the opportunity to take a minute to think about the [role],” Mundell said at a Mar. 22 council meeting. 

In the meantime, Bloomfield animal control and shared services director Anthony Desenzo was appointed to the township administrator role temporarily. And Bloomfield personnel director Kimberly Duca will take on additional responsibilities as the assistant township administrator.

But what does a township administrator do? Why does Bloomfield need one? And how are they selected? Here’s what we know.

Why does Bloomfield have a township administrator?

There are twelve types of municipal governments in New Jersey, including a type known as “Special Charter.” 

Bloomfield is just one of eleven municipalities in the state that operate under a Special Charter form of government. In the township’s case, that means it is governed by an elected mayor and six elected councilmembers and managed by an administrator.

What does a township administrator do? 

The township’s website says that the administrator is responsible for overseeing all departments within the municipality and reports directly to the mayor and council.

“Our job is to execute what the mayor and council deem as important,” said Watkins in a 2019 interview with NJTV. They set the agenda and the administrator presents recommendations based on what is allowable by the township code and state law.

The administrator functions like the chief operating officer of a corporation, according to Kevin Heydel, deputy director for the Division of Local Government Services at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. “They’re the glue that holds everything together.”

Heydel spent 16 years as a township administrator in Monroe, N.J. before joining the state’s Department of Community Affairs.

According to Heydel, the role’s primary function is budgetary control. Administrators are responsible for submitting an annual budget to the council and ensuring each department follows their budget and properly accounts for expenses.

In all, here are the tasks Heydel listed as the responsibility of township administrators.

  • Develop, support, and control budgets
  • Make purchase agreements
  • Develop the municipality personnel and HR policies and training
  • Negotiate contracts and collective bargaining agreements
  • Act as an an agent of governing body and administration
  • Handle grievances and disputes
  • Manage health insurance, workers compensation, general liability and retirement for municipal employees
  • Handle complaints for general public

Here’s what the Bloomfield township code says about the township administrator’s duties.

  • Be responsible for the preparation of the budget document and the compilation and analysis of budget costs and estimates, the maintenance of sound personnel policies and administrative practices; and the purchasing of materials, supplies and equipment to be furnished and work and labor to be done for the Township.
  • Supervise the administration of all departments, offices and agencies of the Township government.
  • Conduct pre budget public hearings during the month of November in each year, during which each department head shall have an opportunity to present and justify his budget requests.
  • Prepare the annual budget for introduction in such form and with such explanatory statements and schedules, consistent with the local budget law, as the Council shall provide.
  • Approve all bills and vouchers for payment, subject to audit and control in such manner as the Council shall provide.
  • Study the governmental and administrative operations and needs of the Township government and prepare and recommend to the Council necessary and desirable plans and programs with respect thereto.
  • Attend all meetings of Council and perform such other duties as the Council may prescribe

How is the township administrator selected?

Bloomfield’s township code says the council can appoint an administrator for an indefinite term and should choose them based solely on their “executive and administrative qualifications…in respect to their duties of the office.”

But it’s not the human resources department that makes the hiring decision, according to Hydel – it’s the town council. So it’s not a political position but politics may play a role, he said.

To find a township administrator, the council may set up an internal committee to review candidates and make recommendations, according to Hydel. 

At the Mar. 22 town council meeting, Mayor Michael Venezia said Third Ward Councilwoman Sarah Cruz was leading the town council’s search for the next township administrator. 

Is there a residency requirement for Bloomfield’s township administrator?

According to Bloomfield’s township code, the administrator does not need to live in Bloomfield or New Jersey at the time of their appointment. But they do need permission from the council to live outside of the township during their term.

Can a mayor become the township administrator of a municipality they govern or previously governed?

Heydel said a mayor can take on the duties of township administrator temporarily with the town council’s approval if the need arises.

The mayor can also become the administrator of a municipality they formerly governed, according to Heydel – as long as they’re qualified. “But in my 18 years in municipal government, I don’t recall that happening,” he said.

How is the township administrator removed?

The administrator serves “at the pleasure of the council,” according to the township code and may be removed after a written notification and a public hearing.