Over the past few weeks, Mayor Dennis Elwell and every single member of the Town Council has publicly stated that they want Councilman Mike Gonnelli to be able to serve as Volunteer Fire Chief. Each praised Gonnelli as an outstanding public servant and was in agreement that that the entire council would work together and do everything possible to overcome any obstacles to his being able to serve.
That did not happen at the last council meeting. Instead, the mayor and his council majority are going before a judge to prevent Gonnelli from becoming Fire Chief, after assuring us that they were sincere and had no political motives. They were not the least bit sincere. Elwell and his group are asking a judge to disregard 37 years of outstanding service to Secaucus, heroic service often risking his own safety to save others. They are asking a judge to disregard the will of the members of the Volunteer Fire Department who have elected their chiefs for over 100 years and are in strong support of having Mike Gonnelli serve his two-year term as Chief. They are also dismissing the support of over 1,000 citizens who signed a petition in strong support of Councilman Gonnelli. And, perhaps worst of all, they had no intention to do what they promised our residents.
Instead of going before a judge seeking to prevent Mike Gonnelli from become Fire Chief, they should be doing as they promised. They should pass the ordinance prepared by Councilman Jeffas, council liaison to the Fire Department, which would remove any administrative duties to any councilmember who became volunteer fire chief. They should urge our Assemblyman Vincent Prieto to sponsor a bill in the state legislature which would exempt volunteer firefighters, sports coaches, OEM volunteers and others from possible conflict of interest technicalities, as they have in other states. And they should bring these efforts before the State Department of Community Affairs, where this complaint was first brought, asking them to affirm that Councilman Gonnelli can serve as both Councilman and Volunteer Fire Chief.
Their actions do not even come close to matching their rhetoric of the past few weeks. If they were really sincere in wanting Councilman Gonnelli to serve as Fire Chief, as they have been promising us all along, they would have tried any number of ways to accomplish this. But instead, they show their true colors by telling the people of Secaucus one thing and doing the exact opposite.