One of six seats on the Guttenberg Town Council is up for grabs. Councilman Efrain Velez, the second-longest serving council member, resigned effective Friday, Dec. 4 at 4 p.m. That set in motion a series of events to fill the vacant seat, with a new council member to be appointed within 45 days… or not.
Because Velez was a Democrat, New Jersey Statute 40A:16-11 states that his successor must be a Democrat. The Guttenberg Democratic Committee is now charged with determining three nominees and providing them to the Town Council within 15 days of Velez’s effective resignation date.
The council then has 15 days to select one of those three nominees or reject all three. If they reject them, they have 15 days to select a new candidate of their own choosing, or they can leave the seat vacant until the next general election, according to Registered Municipal Clerk Albert Cabrera, the chief administrator of elections in the Town of Guttenberg.
“This is known as the ‘15-15-15 Rule,’” said Cabrera.
Several elections ahead
Velez resigned because he was moving out of state. Under the present council system, he served as chair of the Guttenberg Department of Public Works. His resignation leaves that position temporarily vacant.
Whoever is named the interim councilperson will have to run in a special election next year in order to complete the term, which expires in 2017.
Velez was first sworn in as a councilperson on Jan. 1, 2004, two years after Mayor Gerald Drasheff joined the council in 2002.
Whoever is selected to fill the vacant seat will hold the position only temporarily, with several elections to contend with in the coming two years. Although Velez’s term doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2017, the law requires that anyone selected by the council to fill the seat must run for office in a special election at the time of the next general election. That would be in November 2016, when the presidential election takes place.
“At that time there will be a special election in town for the unexpired term,” said Cabrera. “Anyone else who wishes to run, that’s their opportunity to challenge the individual.”
Board of Education, other elections
November 2016 will also be election time for three expiring Guttenberg Board of Education seats. School board elections were switched from April to November several years ago to increase voter turnout and save money on ballots.
Then in 2017 the four-year term for the currently vacant council seat will expire. At that time whoever is occupying the seat will need to run for election once again.
“This individual is going to be a master at elections,” noted Cabrera.
Also expiring in 2017 are the current terms of office for Mayor Drasheff and Councilpersons Monica Fundora and John Habermann. Their seats will be up for election at that time.
The other two council seats, those of Alfonso Caso and Donna Florio, will be up for election the following year, 2018.
Public interview process
In the past, Guttenberg held a public interview process with all three candidates when filling a vacant council seat.
“When [former Mayor David] Delle Donna resigned, three candidates were chosen and [James] Hannon was selected by a majority vote,” said Cabrera, about the interim mayor prior to Drasheff.
The three candidates were interviewed publicly by the sitting council, then a final decision was made behind closed doors. Although the public interview process is not required, “I foresee the process being the same, as they like to keep the information public and give a better understanding of how local government works,” said Cabrera. “That way there’s openness and transparency, and residents get an understanding of how their officials are elected.”
A regular monthly public meeting is already scheduled for Monday, Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. If the Democratic Committee provides the names of three candidates in time, the candidates may be publicly interviewed by the mayor and council at that meeting. Otherwise, a special public meeting may be scheduled for a future date.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.