Candidates Spar Over Hours Of Mayor’s Aide

Manchester Town Hall (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

  MANCHESTER – A few awkward moments punctuated what was a rather slow-moving Township Council meeting when mayoral contender Robert Arace accused the mayor’s confidential aide of clocking into work while not on township property.

  Arace directed his questions toward Mayor Robert Hudak at the close of the September 12 meeting noting that Jesse Estlow had not been on municipal complex property when he utilized a township app to clock in for work.

  Business Administrator Brandon Umba interrupted the mayor’s response during the session saying such commentary was inappropriate until a Rice notice involving the employee was issued.

  He further explained to The Manchester Times that “a public body is required to send out a Rice notice any time it has placed on its agenda any matters involving the employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of the performance of, promotion, or disciplining of any specific prospective public officer or employee or current public officer or employee employed or appointed by the public body.”

  Citing the regulations, Umba said, “this also goes for any matter that is brought to the public body in a meeting.” The public body cannot comment because the employee has not been issued a RICE notice.

  Arace released the following statement a few days after the council meeting accusing the mayor of “willful ignorance in the face of highly inappropriate and unethical activity by one of Mayor Hudak’s patronage hires at town hall. It has recently become public knowledge that Mayor Hudak’s aide has been clocking into work while offsite in locations as far away as Pennsylvania.

  “When confronted with this information at the most recent township meeting, Mayor Hudak simply responded that, ‘several people do that.’ The mayor’s admission that multiple employees are abusing the taxpayers by clocking into work while not performing their respective duties is shocking, and the mayor’s lack of action to reprimand the offending employees makes him negligent in his responsibilities to the township and the voters who elected him,” Arace said.

  Arace added, “the majority of our township employees are honest, dedicated workers who follow the rules and perform their duties according to the law. However, I find it unacceptable that a select few of the mayor’s patronage hires are allowed to game the system and defraud the people of Manchester with the Mayor’s approval.”

  “If these reports are proven to be true, I am calling for the Mayor’s Confidential Aide’s immediate termination and a criminal referral to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation.” Arace said.

  Prior to this, Estlow was a congressional aide. He was formerly the executive director of the Burlington County GOP but stepped down when he took this job. According to township records, his salary is $61,800 or $33.96 an hour.

  “The app referred to is the Township’s time and attendance system used to track an employee’s time. The app is used by employees who might be in the field when they are starting or completing work for the day but are not present at their work station or while during Covid they could clock in from home if they were working from home. However, for the most part employees use an ID card system that you had referenced that the County utilizes,” Umba explained.

  The Business Administrator told The Manchester Times that since Estlow is the Mayor’s Confidential Aide, “he does not have an individual contract with the Township nor is he represented under a union contract. His employment with the township is subject to the mayor and runs with the term of the mayor.”

  “If a new Mayor is elected, then that person would need to decide if they wish to retain him in that position and if not, his employment would be eliminated, that is unless he was reassigned to a different position within the Township,” Umba added.

  Umba said the terms of Estlow’s employment were set out in his offer letter, which stated that he is a salaried employee and his established hours were made at 35 hours a week, with a half hour unpaid lunch each day. He would not be entitled to overtime for any work over 35 hours a week, as he was strictly salaried.

  “Since his employment is subject to attending events with the mayor or on the mayor’s behalf, in order to get information out to the public from the mayor’s office, there are times when he is in the field at the beginning and close of his work day,” Umba added.

  Umba said Estlow, “does not have set hours per say, however it is noted that absent events or project deadline his working hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. In reviewing the employee’s time cards, he has worked in excess of 35 hours most work weeks due to his attendance with the mayor or on the mayor’s behalf to events.

  “To further clarify, there has only been three pay periods since Mr. Estlow has been employed with the Township where he worked his minimum hour requirement for a two-week period. This employee is a salaried employee without a set contract of employment,” he said.

  While Manchester has a non-partisan election system, political affiliation is still playing a role in campaigning. Hudak and Arace are both Republicans. Arace noted he is the Manchester Township Republican organization endorsed candidate for mayor in the township. A third contender in the mayoral race this November is Ken Seda, a member of the Manchester Democrat Club and a retired counselor and community advocate.

  There are two council seats up for grabs in this year’s election and six candidates, two from each mayoral campaign team, are on the ballot.