Redevelopment Agency commissioner resigns

Sondra Fishinger has resigned from the Redevelopment Agency, eight months after being among four new commissioners appointed in an overhaul of the seven-member board. (UPDATED: The original post has been updated to add new information; scroll to the end of the original post below.)

In an April 17 email to the agency, Fishinger cited a conflict in serving simultaneously on two city agencies that was pointed out by Redevelopment Director Leonard Bier. He was appointed executive director of the Redevelopment Agency in November and has served as Parking Authority director for many years.

Fishinger will remain a commissioner on the Parking Authority. Her term expires in 2017 while her term on the Redevelopment Agency expires at the end of this year.  A former Board of Education member, Fishinger also is president of the Union County Performing Arts Center Board of Trustees.

It’s the second resignation from the agency since the September shakeup. Michael Staryak stepped down in November, soon after the search for a new executive director was completed.

Armando Sanchez was in the same boat as Fishinger: a Parking Authority commissioner who was appointed to the Redevelopment Agency in September, along with Fishinger. He was reappointed by City Council just last month to another four-year term on the Parking Authority but said he stepped down from that body for the same reason as Fishinger. He will remain on the Redevelopment Agency.

Commissioners on the Redevelopment Agency and the five-member Parking Authority are not paid. Both are mayoral appointments that must be confirmed by City Council.

UPDATED, 5/9/15: An open government activist likely had a role in the recent resignations after bringing appointments to the attention of the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) last month.

John Schmidt of Gloucester City, an open government activist with New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJ FOG), wrote to the DCA April 10 after researching appointments made last fall to the Redevelopment Agency.

Schmidt was concerned after reading about last September’s appointments to the Redevelopment Agency, in which Councilman Rodney Farrar, Sondra Fishinger and Armando Sanchez were among four new appointments to the agency. A commissioner on the Clementon Borough Housing Authority, Schmidt questioned the legality of:

  • having three officers of Rahway sit on the RRA despite the state statute allowing only two;
  • the ordinance creating the RRA also does not provide for the appointment of a member of the governing body to the RRA; and,
  • no commissioner of a parking authority may be an officer or employee of the municipality or county for which the authority is created; provided however, that a municipality may appoint its traffic engineer or chief of police to such authority.

Fishinger and Sanchez were appointed in September, along with 1st Ward Councilman Rodney Farrar.

“Since Sanchez and Fishinger were members of the Parking Authority at the time they were appointed and took office as redevelopment commissioners, they were prohibited from taking office without resigning from the Parking Authority and therefore would not be eligible to be seated as members of the RRA,” Schmidt said in his April 9 email to DCA.

“I believe the statute was created not as a hindrance to government operations but to ensure conflicts of interest do not arise by having the same individuals on government entities within a municipality or county.  I also believe this statute and the restrictions imposed as to the make up of the Board of Commissioners was to foster a more transparent and independent government entity,” he wrote.

Timeline of events