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The Lakewood Board of Fire Commissioners this week formally hired Sima Clapman for the new position of "Fire Prevention Specialist."

Ms. Clapman is the sister-in-law of former Commissioner David Mizrahi.

The appointment will commence on November 1, 2023. After a 3 month probationary period, with a satisfactory evaluation, she will be considered a permanent employee.

The salary will be as follows:

November 1, 2023 – December 31, 2023 - $55,000.00 per year, prorated.

January 1, 2024 – December 31, 2024 - $55,000.00 per year

January 1, 2025 – December 31, 2025 - $56,100.00 per year

January 1, 2026 – December 31, 2026 - $57,222.00 per year

After that point a new agreement will be negotiated.

Clapman will be enrolled in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). She will be entitled to paid family health benefit insurance, for which she will contribute 2% of her annual salary.

She will receive 13 paid holidays, 3 paid personal leave days, 12 vacation leave days, and 15 sick leave working days. (That is 43 paid off days annually)

The fire district's annual budget for the current fiscal year appropriates a total of $93,584 in taxpayer funds for this position (including the health insurance and other fringe benefits).

Up until now, the Lakewood Fire District did not have a salaried Fire Prevention Specialist. A number of years ago, they had several volunteer firefighters, at the helm of Volunteer Firefighter Jacob Woolf. What started off as visiting camps and schools upon request quickly burgeoned into many hours of volunteer time spent building up a Community Risk Reduction program, including safety initiatives and seminars at several local senior communities along with compiling resident emergency directories and pre-planning. Plans were also in the works for numerous additional community programs in local schools, and more.

Eventually, Firefighter Woolf began to receive a modest, annual $5,000 for the busy Fire Prevention Coordinator position.

In fact, the new position of Fire Prevention Specialist was initially created for Jacob Woolf to enable him to continue and develop this important work. However, due to internal politics, after 7 years of dedication to the program, he was denied the position originally created for him. Support quickly declined, and after unsuccessful attempts to work things out, Woolf parted ways with the fire dept.

As a result, the Fire Commissioners - who continue to turn a blind eye to the actual reasons why the volunteer ranks are dwindling - have now hired a new Fire Prevention Specialist.

The new position, which comes at a 10x salary increase, is largely an administrative assistant to Chief John Yahr.

The Fire District's request for cover letters and resumes states that the position is to:

• Perform and coordinate Fire Prevention activities; organizing and coordinating community events, public education programs, and working collaboratively with Fire Department personnel to accomplish Fire Prevention Program objectives. 

• Additional duties may include reception and phone coverage and other clerical duties as assigned. The majority of work may be performed in an office environment with trips to locations in the community for the purpose of performing public education activities and pre-incident planning. 

• Assist the Fire Chief and others as assigned with administrative functions and special research.

Curiously, the request for cover letters and resumes also stipulates:

• Preference may be given to Residents of the Lakewood Township

This raises eye brows.

The New Jersey Local Public Contracts Law (NJSA 40A:11-4.4) specifically provides that "the competitive contracting process shall... include all requirements deemed appropriate and necessary to allow for full and free competition between vendors; information necessary for potential vendors to submit a proposal."

In other words, the bidding process needs to be "fair and open to all."

It certainly is questionable if "preference may be given to Residents of Lakewood Township" complies with this Statutory provision.

The Board of Fire Commissioners have an interesting habit of pulling such charades.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Fire Commissioners also used legal loopholes to be able to retain Ian Goldman, Esq as attorney to the Fire District despite another attorney offering to take the job for less money.

This year's fire district budget, which for the first time has topped $10 million, includes a salary of $191,732 for Chief Yahr, $155,000 for Administrator Yehuda Beer, and $110,000 for Deputy Administrator Steven Mulholland. Mr. Goldman's contract is for $195 per hour for his legal services. In 2022 the District paid Mr. Goldman close to $50,000 for his legal services, which was then billed at $155 per hour. At this point, Mr. Goldman receives $195 an hour.

Of additional interest is that at the recent Board meeting, Aaron Hirsch brought up the need for the Fire District to take their job of reviewing Planning Board applications way more seriously.

Commissioner Harrison Pfeffer responded to him that that task is already included in this new Fire Prevention Specialist position.

However, a review of their job posting brochure indicates no mention of reviewing Planning Board applications.

As first reported here on FAA News, Aaron Hirsch is running against Harrison Pfeffer who is seeking reelection.

Aaron Hirsch is currently very active at the local land use boards, speaking in support of traffic and pedestrian safety.

If elected to the Board of Fire Commissioners, Mr. Hirsch will be in an even more key position to combat wild and unsafe development projects, and implement smart growth policies in our Township.

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