Documents obtained through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request this month confirm that council, in closed session at the end of May, recommended that no action be taken against Doreen Cali, the Borough Clerk, for violating a standing resolution and lying about it to the public on the dais during the February 18th Mayor & Council meeting while serving as a public official.
In December of last year, council unanimously passed Resolution 342-15, which extended the prohibited use of electronic communication devices during a public meeting to include all borough officials, including the Borough Clerk. This resolution itself was an expansion of Resolution 300-15 which placed the same electronic device prohibition on members of the governing body.
On February 18th of this year, Ms. Cali was seen using her cellphone at one point during the Mayor & Council meeting. This is later confirmed by the Borough Clerk herself at the March 3rd Mayor & Council meeting when Ms. Cali stated the following reason for her violation of the legal resolution, “In regards to the use of my cellphone, I did have another death in the family. My children’s father died and I was waiting to see and trying to watch my phone to see if he was passing because he did ultimately pass last week.”
The only problem with Ms. Cali’s voluntary statement was that research showed that the person she was referring to, Robert Aeillo, died on February 2, 2016. A copy of Mr. Aiello’s obituary in the Star-Ledger can be viewed here or here. This was more than two weeks before Ms. Cali used her cellphone and three weeks before she publicly claimed he passed away. Roselle Park News, as it does with its reporting, did its due diligence and – in conducting a preliminary routine research that led to more questions – discovered the inconsistency in Ms. Cali’s public statement.
The governing body was asked to look into the matter and allow the Borough Clerk to explain her March 3rd statement and the reason for violating the resolution on February 18th or to refute the claim brought against her.
It is important to note that during the February 18th meeting, Ms. Cali took the unusual step of approaching the governing body as a resident during the public comment portion of the meeting. Ms. Cali wanted it noted on the record that she felt that Fifth Ward Councilman Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley made false accusations and that council violated what is called the Rice Notice by allowing it to occur (link to article).
Her use of her cellphone which occurred after Councilman Shipley made his comments and before she spoke on the matter – once during her Borough Clerk’s report and again during the public comment portion – supports the premise that she was not watching her phone for the reason she officially gave but that she was searching for the relevant law to use in her public comments. This is also supported by Ms. Cali never again noticeably looking at her phone during the February 18th meeting after the public comment portion.
Although it might appear, at first, to be a trivial matter, Ms. Cali’s action goes to the heart of the trust given to her not only by residents but by the governing body as well.
During the closed session in May, according to the executive session minutes, Mayor Carl Hokanson did want an independent investigation of the matter but received no support from council, whose sentiment was to take no action. As to be discussed in an upcoming article about another borough employee who had a public hearing, such actions could have included a public reprimand of Ms. Cali. But, as a result of the decision by council to take no action – and even though it is formally resolved – nothing was actually been resolved as far as the residents are concerned.