On the hot seat

City Council factions quibble over open spot; Doyle appointed

Attorney James Doyle was appointed to the City Council at a meeting on Wednesday, but controversy over his appointment is likely to continue. The council seat was vacated by the resignation of At-Large Councilwoman Carol Marsh, which she announced in a tearful public statement on Sept. 19. If she had resigned before Sept. 1, by law, a special election in November would have been required to fill the seat. Since she didn’t, the task of replacing Marsh was left to the council, which has a majority allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
Two questions were argued on Wednesday night by the politically-divided governing body after ruling out a special election: What kind of majority was necessary for the appointment? Were Doyle’s votes as a council member after his swearing-in valid?
The Municipal Vacancy Law governs the appointment process. It stipulates that the governing body appoints the person to fill the vacancy by “majority” vote. If all eight remaining members of the council had been in attendance, this likely would have led to a 4 to 4 tie, and in the event of a tie, by law, the mayor can cast a fifth vote.

“Everyone has their opinion, let’s move on.” – Council President Peter Cunningham
The ambiguity of the word “majority” was contested by both sides, who said it was unclear whether “majority” pertained to a majority of the remaining eight members or of the seven voting members actually present. Councilwoman Beth Mason was absent.
Councilman Michael Russo abstained on the appointment vote. Both are members of the council minority frequently at odds with Mayor Dawn Zimmer, as are council members Theresa Castellano and Tim Occhipinti, who also opposed Doyle’s appointment. Council members Peter Cunningham, Jennifer Giattino, Ravi Bhalla, and David Mello, all allies of Zimmer, voted to appoint Doyle.
Corporation counsel Mellissa Longo clarified the law several times at the meeting. She said the law did not require a five-person majority and that a four person majority was sufficient. However, during the commotion, Mayor Zimmer stepped up and cast a fifth vote for Doyle. Some members of the public and council called this illegal.
However, the vote was ultimately recorded as a 4-2-1 vote and did not include the mayor’s vote.
For the remainder of the meeting, members of the council majority objected to Councilman Doyle’s votes, and threatened litigation over his appointment.

Who decides?

When Zimmer ran for office, she stressed that anyone could submit applications for open seats under her administration.
Besides Doyle, who was favored for the seat, former council candidate Scott DeLea submitted an application. DeLea founded a group in Hoboken that raises money for local charities, “Party with a Purpose.” At the meeting, he did not receive a sponsor, which only allowed for a vote on Doyle.
Before the vote for Doyle could take place, members of council and the public spoke out about letting the people decide rather than a council appointment.
“Normally it’s [the people’s] choice,” said resident and Board of Education candidate Pat Waiters. “When [a council member] is forced out through corruption, negligence, or sickness, the people should decide what’s good for the people.”
Members of the anti-Zimmer minority called for a public election rather than an appointment.
But that would have meant waiting until the next election cycle, since it was too late for November.
The council majority pushed for the appointment rather than a special election.
“We can’t afford a 4 to 4 deadlock for the next seven months,” Council President Peter Cunningham said. “We need to get business done.”
Bhalla said that the minority’s comments about Doyle’s votes throughout the night were disrespectful. He also suggested the minority tried to manipulate the law by not having Beth Mason present, thus eliminating the possibility of a tie vote.
Mason did not return a phone call by press time to determine why she missed the meeting.
Castellano, Russo and Occhipinti reiterated that they meant no disrespect to Doyle or his intelligence, but they believed that Doyle was voting illegally.
“Everyone has their opinion,” Cunningham finally said. “Let’s move on.”
In a follow-up interview, Mayor Zimmer said, “By law a special election was not a legal option. Leaving the seat vacant would have been an irresponsible course of action.”
The special election would only have occurred if Marsh resigned before Sept. 1.
Zimmer also said that Doyle will be a strong addition to the council and has been very valuable in protecting the character of Hoboken.
Doyle has written several letters to the Reporter about development and open space issues, particularly against big developers. Past stories and letters can be found in the archives at hudsonreporter.com.

The ABC’s of politics

Comic relief for the evening arose over a resolution saying that fees should be waived on required bar card applications for guest or “celebrity” bartenders at an upcoming fundraiser. Sometimes, bars have special events with guest “celebrity” bartenders who have high community profiles.
The state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, demands that certain cities require anyone serving alcohol to obtain bar cards, in which applicants have to be finger printed, get a background check, and pay a fee.
The resolution was to waive the fee as a one-time courtesy to those acting as a celebrity bartender for only two hours at an Oct. 10 event. Doyle abstained because he had been asked to be one of the “celebrity” bartenders.
This had both sides of the council making jokes and consequently referring to Doyle as a “celebrity.”

If a tree falls

Hoboken resident and activist Mary Ondrejka protested plans to cut down a tree in Church Square Park. Ondrejka has fought the removal of the trees lining the basketball courts there. According to Ondrejka, the city has found the trees to be an interference.
Ondrejka argued that seven trees should be saved, and said they are anywhere from 80 to 110 years old.
Ondrejka challenged Councilwoman Jennifer Giattino as to why one specific tree will be cut down. Giattino explained that the tree was damaged by lightning and thus a safety hazard.
“I guess the [city] got one anyway,” said Ondrejka. “[The City Council] is calling it a safety hazard, yet it’s not cornered off.”

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at amandap@hudsonreporter.com.

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