Sitting in the back of council chambers during the August 16th Mayor & Council meeting last month, Donna Zolli-Kimmel – the current chair of the Roselle Park Republican Committee (RPRC) – was writing down on a piece of paper what would later be confirmed to be the RPRC’s list of nominees to fill the unexpired term caused by the resignation of Second Ward Councilman Marc Caswell.
At that meeting, after Marc Caswell left the dais at around 8:20 p.m., Mayor Joseph Accardi gave a very brief overview of the procedure to appoint someone to fulfill a vacancy on the governing body. When asked to approach the dais by the mayor, the RPRC Chair handed the paper she was writing on moments earlier to him, and the mayor read from the sheet which stated that the RPRC submitted three (3) nominees for the Second Ward Council.
“I believe that members of council have had the opportunity to discuss this,” stated Mayor Accardi to those in attendance.
Council-At-Large Carl Hokanson responded, “I haven’t. Nobody discussed anything with me.”
Ignoring the Council-At-Large, Mayor Accardi continued with the process of appointing someone to the second ward council seat. Third Ward Councilwoman Tanya Torres nominated Scott Nicol, the second name on the list. This nomination was seconded by First Ward Councilman Andrew Casais. The vote was then taken with Council-At-Large Carl Hokanson, the only Democrat on the dais, voting ‘no’, stating that he never met Mr. Nicol nor was ever shown the list.
One issue with the nominating process put forth on the agenda that night by Mayor Accardi, was that the sheet of paper – shown below – was not on RPRC letterhead, had no date, no addresses to confirm residency of nominees in the second ward, and no signature from the RPRC Chair.
Add to this the fact that Marc Caswell sat on the dais after his effective resignation. This leads to another issue where Council-At-Large Carl Hokanson asked for a copy of Mr. Caswell’s resignation letter and was given a copy of it by the Borough Clerk that had the date and time amended by hand; there is no signature or initial to attribute who amended the effective resignation nor if Marc Caswell agreed to that change. This letter is different than the official letter received through an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request by Roselle Park News.
The letter received by Roselle Park News had the information provided on Council-At-Large Hokanson’s whited out.
In comparison to this process, which was apparently done in one night, below is documentation of what transpired when First Ward Councilman Larry Dinardo resigned from council last year.
Mr. Dinardo gave notice of his resignation on September 9, 2011 to the Roselle Park Democratic Committee (RPDC).
On September 12th, Mr. Dinardo had a letter submitted to the Union County Democratic Committee (UCDC) and to Doreen Cali, the Municipal Clerk. In addition to Mr. Dinardo’s resignation letter, Dan Petrosky, chair of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee (RPDC) submitted a letter to Ms. Cali listing three nominees for appointment to the vacancy. According to Mr. Petrosky, who kept notes of communications with the municipality, Ms. Cali would not accept the letter because the correspondence did not state that the RPDC held a meeting with committee members to pick nominees and that the names of nominees did not have accompanying addresses to confirm residency. Additionally, Mr. Petrosky stated that he was told that the RPDC should put the names in order of preference to fill the seat.
Mr. Petrosky returned to the Borough Clerk’s office on September 15th with a revised letter which stated that a meeting had been held by the committee for the purpose of protocol and each candidate’s name had an accompanying address. A Mayor & Council meeting was scheduled that evening and the RPDC Chair requested that a decision be made that night since Mr. Dinardo’s resignation would be accepted during the meeting. Mr. Petrosky stated that he was told by Ms. Cali that no one would be picked and that it could take up to 45 days since it would have to be confirmed that all the nominees did, in fact, live in the first ward and it would be up to the governing body to pick an appointment out of the three names.
Due to that delay, the first ward had no representation for 21 days. Eugene Meola was appointed by the governing body and sworn in at the October 6, 2011 Mayor & Council meeting. During that meeting, Mayor Accardi stated, regarding the process at that time, that the RPDC provided the three names in the order that they wish that seat to be filled.
“We were told to put them in that order, ” stated Mr. Petrosky regarding the mayor’s statement, “Why weren’t the Republicans told to do the same?”
Additionally, Council-At-Large Carl Hokanson, when asked to comment on the matter, responded, “You know, that’s the first time I’ve voted against appointing a councilperson. It wasn’t Scott Nicol I was voting against but to all of a sudden have Donna Zolli walk up and give the mayor a list is ludicrous. It wasn’t even on the agenda.”
The Council-At-Large stated he was disappointed by the lack of courtesy to be told of the appointments until it was publicly announced. He added, “I found out when she was walking up.”
Councilwoman Torres, in responding to a request to comment stated, “I learned of the selected three candidates from the GOP Committee. I was already familiar with all three candidates so it was an easy decision for me. I’m not sure what the typical time frame is but from memory only, I do not recall a lot of time to research the Democratic candidates when Larry Dinardo resigned.”