By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr
December 1, 2020
Township of Ocean – The November 5, Township council workshop meeting started with a bang. When Mayor Christopher Siciliano asked Michael Muscillo, Township Manger to go over the agenda, Muscillo became defensive.
“First thing I want to bring up is that since apparently everybody is on board with me being fired on January 1, I feel like I have to share a few things with everybody because I’m tired of getting all of my rights violated,” said Muscillo. He then handed each member of the governing body a multi-page letter. “I don’t do anything in the dark and if you had a meeting about me at least have the guts to tell me.”
Siciliano replied from the council bench, “ditto.”
“My rights were violated, I was never noticed for this, I was never advised of anything and this has been going on for the last two and half years,” Muscillo said. He then informed the mayor and council that they will be hearing from his attorney.
Siciliano asked Muscillo what notice he was talking about.
“I was never noticed about a meeting and I never received a Rice noticed that my job was being discussed and I was being fired,” Muscillo said.
In New Jersey, a Rice notice is a notification from a public body that it is going to discuss an individual’s employment in an upcoming meeting.
Most employment matters are covered in what is known as executive session. The employee and public are prohibited from attending this session. Only the outcome is made public. This was established to avoid having their employment and, often, their flaws and mistakes made known to the public. However, having that closed meeting results in an employee not being able to attend and be privy to the discussion.
Many employees who were faced with that process preferred to have their “dirty laundry” aired in a public and transparent forum, rather than learning only the final outcome. This is where the Rice Notice comes into play. Any board of education or municipality in New Jersey must notify an individual at least 48-hours in advance of any meeting where the employees job will be discussed. It must clearly state the location and time of the meeting and give the employee the right to be heard in open session.
“You’re not fired,” said Siciliano.
Muscillo then stated, “I wasn’t” and both the mayor and township attorney Martin Arbus said, no you are not fired. The township manager then asked the attorney, “January 1, I’m out of a job?”
Siciliano then said that was never said and that is why he brought a witness (Arbus) with him when he meet with Muscillo. “You’re not fired. If we were going to fire you, we would have given you a Rice Notice and had it on the agenda,” said the Mayor.
Muscillo then called Siciliano and Arbus liars, saying that the mayor told him that as of January 1, he was out of a job as he (the mayor) had four council members on his side to fire him.
Arbus stated that Muscillo misunderstood what was said. The two men were sitting at opposite ends of a table going back and forth at each other.
Siciliano and Muscillo then had their own back-and-forth discussion on what was said. “I did say that after the first of the year we will be looking to separate. However, we all agreed to give you an opportunity of 90-days maybe to find something and make the announcement yourself rather than having a public meeting like this and save you the ding on your record,” said Siciliano. “So on December 2, we will take formal action and give you a Rice Notice.”
Preliminary resolution relieving Michael F. Muscillo as Township Manager 20-203 was introduced on Tuesday, December 2. It stated that Muscillo no longer has the confidence from the council and he no longer works harmoniously with them. The council feels that it is in the best interest of the township that they relieve Muscillo of his duties. They also agreed to pay his salary and benefits for the next three calendar months.
Siciliano stated that the search for a new manager would commence within 90 days. Until a new manager is appointed, each department head will be responsible for their area and if they have any questions they will bring it to the mayor’s office.
Muscillo was appointed as Township Manager on June 29, 2017. He holds a Masters degree in Public Administration from Valdosta State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Montclair State University. He has held prior municipal management positions as an Assistant Business Administrator in Long Branch, the Business Administrator in Hazlet, the Manager in Lakewood, and the Administrator in Tinton Falls. Mr. Muscillo is an active member of the New Jersey Municipal Managers Association and follows the International City/County Managers’ Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics. He currently resides in Ocean with his wife and two children. His total compensation package was $200,000.00