The Hardwick township committee unanimously voted to terminate the employment of animal control officer Alan DeCarolis at its October 18th meeting.
Mayor Chris Jacksic said DeCarolis was served a so-called Rice notice, a document sent to a public-sector employee advising them that their employment would be discussed by a governing body and that the employee has the right to request a public hearing. Jacksic said DeCarolis did ask for such a hearing.
“Mr. DeCarolis was served with Rice notice advising him in writing that his employment and performance would be discussed at tonight’s meeting,” Jacksic said. “He elected to have discussion in public, as is his right.”
Outlining the concerns with DeCarolis’ performance, Jacksic said, “During the past year, the township has received written complaints identifying specific areas of concern involving the township’s ACO. These include lack of responsiveness to animal control calls within the township and failure to perform certain duties and responsibilities required of a certified ACO.”
Jacksic said VCA Blairstown Animal Hospital had recently advised the township that it would no longer serve as a stray impound facility for the township. The animal hospital cited “very little support from the animal control officer to find placement for abandoned pets that need new homes,” Jacksic said.
In response, DeCarolis addressed only the issue regarding his reports, saying he did turn in his reports as required.
“I have turned my reports monthly or quarterly, as I have done for 20 years,” DeCarolis said. He added that he has confirmation that he sent all his reports to the township clerk’s office.
DeCarolis, who also serves as animal control officer for several surrounding municipalities including Frelinghuysen and Knowlton, said that on the Monday before the hearing, he submitted all his reports to the clerk’s office.
“I gave her all my copies of my reports,” DeCarolis said. “So, it’s not true that I didn’t send my reports in. I sent them in.”
Committee member John Lovell, before casting his vote in favor of the termination, voiced some of his concerns.
“We received a number of emails. Some were signed, some were not,” Lovell said. “And there was a theme that was consistent throughout, and that was a theme of recurring nonfeasance. And I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been in town management since 1975. I’ve had large animal control operations serving regional areas under my jurisdiction and under my authority. I never saw quite so many complaints for such a small town, and that is a concern.”
Lovell added that he disagreed with DeCarolis’ assertion that he turned in his reports properly.
“They weren’t sent in a timely manner,” Lovell said.
Deputy Mayor Nicole Meuse thanked DeCarolis for his 20 years of service to the township but said the despite a performance improvement plan given to him August there has not been progress.
“We tried to give you the tools,” she said. “This is what we need in order to show our residents what we’re doing in order to help fix a lot of those complaints.”
Referring to the improvement plan, Meuse said, “Let me ask you this, did you read it?”
DeCarolis said he did read it but that he thought most of the complaints originated with VCA Blairstown Animal Hospital.
Before his vote to terminate, Jacksic said the “resounding complaint” he got from residents was a lack of response.
“I can tell you from first-hand knowledge because I’ve called you. No response,” Jacksic said. “You don’t answer the phone.”
Jacksic said he realizes there are many cell-phone dead spots in the township but that DeCarolis still needs to respond as soon as possible.
“You’re an on-call employee,” Jacksic said.
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.
Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.
Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.
Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.