“I cannot in good faith, I took an oath of office . . . I cannot issue a license for the Borough.”
No, you are not reading a statement from Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis of Kentucky refusing to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples. It is a quote from Roselle Park Borough Clerk Doreen Cali regarding her refusal to sign a license to a towing company which was approved by the governing body at a previous meeting.
At the November 19th Mayor & Council meeting, Resolution 307-15, which was not on the agenda, was added to it by Mayor Carl Hokanson. It was a resolution to allow L&J Body & Fender Work from Kenilworth to be placed on a rotation to tow vehicles for the Borough or police department whenever such a service was needed. It would be one of three towing companies and it would mark the return of L&J to Roselle Park after being absent as a tower for quite a number of years. This was due to the L&J deciding to not tow in the borough by submitting a letter to the municipality. It should be noted that Mrs. Cali was absent from the meeting and the governing body voted unanimously in approved of having L&J return; although it was not with questions or concerns.
Third Ward Councilman Ryan Kelly asked Richard Huxford, the Borough Attorney, before the vote in November if there any grounds to turn L&J away.
Mayor Hokanson said there was not. He discussed the process, “If ACD towing company wants to come and tow in the borough, they submit an application. The application goes to the police department. The police department does a through investigation [on] equipment, liability insurance, driver’s records, storage facilities. They meet requirements set forth within the contract itself and if they do that it goes from the police department to the borough clerk. L&J did that a few months ago. They got tied up with some problems, some litigation problems, going back years ago so they are now requesting to come back as a tower to the Borough of Roselle Park and to the police department. So it’s either yes we approve it, no we don’t approve [then] they can move forward with whatever they have to do.”
First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola asked if the vote could be put off till the next meeting or was there some compelling reason it needed to be voted on that evening. Mayor Hokanson responded, “The reason why it’s on tonight is because they need an answer to find out where they’re going to go as far as their actions. We discussed it at the last meeting. I did state that we’d have an answer for them at this meeting.”
Mr. Huxford that the matter had been brought up previously in closed as possible litigation and it was expected by L&J that it was going to be on the agenda for a vote. The Borough Attorney stated that council could approved, disapprove, or even table the resolution.
“Is this under new management?”, asked Councilman Meola.
Mayor Hokanson answered, “As far as I know it is under the same people.”
Councilman Meola, later in the meeting, asked how long was the term of the contract. He was told that it is year-to-year.
Then Councilman Kelly asked to pull the resolution for discussion. He explained, “I’m voting ‘yes’ on it just as there has been no recent issues. From my understanding there are no egregious violations in our history or at least recent history with L&J Towing and, worst case scenario, it would be something we monitor closely. And as I understand based on this application that in recent years so I see no problem. I just wanted to make sure I gave that reason that’s why I’m voting yes.”
The acting Borough Clerk did a roll call and all six council members voted to approve Resolution 307-15.
During her report for the December 17th Mayor & Council meeting Borough Clerk Doreen Cali, who was in attendance, stated, “Mayor and council passed a resolution, 307-15, authorizing a contract with L&J Towing. That resolution states it’s a one-year contract. Your ordinance clearly states that the fee and the term is a two-year contract but I cannot in good faith – I took an oath of office to impartially [and] justly perform my duties – due to the prior history with this firm I cannot issue a license for the Borough.”
When she was finished, Councilman Eugene Meola asked if a motion could be made to reconsider the vote. Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey asked if the vote was even valid since the resolution was for a one-year contract and the ordinance stipulates a two-year contract. Attorney Richard Huxford stated that it was valid but he asked the First Ward Councilman for clarification on his motion.
Councilman Meola expounded, “[To] reconsider this vote so that we can stop anything in its tracks before it gets legal. Being that this could go into a legal battled and we could end up in Trenton, I would like to make a motion that we re-consider the contract entirely and not allow him to tow so we don’t have to do all this back and forth.”
Discussion ensued regarding if the motion was to reconsider an agreement to let L&J tow or if it was to re-open discussion on the matter. Councilman Kelly asked, “So it’s a motion to deny the prior approval?”
“Yes,” responded Councilman Meola, “We can nip this in the bud now.”
The vote started to be taken on whether the contract should be denied. When it roll call came to Councilman Kelly he stated, “Being that the issue is moving quickly and we want to make sure we get all our ducks in a row I think it would make more sense to just discuss why we’re doing so. Why we want to reconsider or any of the issues just so myself and the rest of the council can make an educated decision . . . I just think that possibly would be a better approach.”
He then asked if it was possible to make a motion to amend a motion, “I’d like to amend it so we can sit back, discuss it, find out why people want to deny or award or what the issue is and then we can make an educated decision on it.”
The councilman made motion to table the resolution. A vote was taken on that motion with Third Ward Councilman Kelly and Second Ward Councilman Joseph Petrosky voting in the affirmative. The other four council members voted against tabling the matter.
The original motion to deny L&J from their prior approval to tow was open for discussion and Councilman Kelly asked Councilman Meola, “What are the reasons I should vote no?”
The First Ward Councilman replied, “There is history and I don’t want it to get out of hand and I don’t want to have to [go] back and forth back to Trenton and I don’t want it to get ugly so I would like to just stop it now. Resolve it and then come back again and then we can pass it later on. It isn’t like this has to be resolved [or] they’ll never have the opportunity to apply for the towing position in the borough again. But [now] under a cloud it looks suspicious.”
The vote was taken and the vote was 5-1 to deny the previous resolution which approved L&J to tow in the borough. Councilman Petrosky was the sole ‘no’ vote.
Mayor Hokanson simply said, “Okay, we’ll bring it up at a later date.”
Later on in the meeting a formal resolution was added to the agenda, Resolution 341-15, which formally rescinded Resolution 307-15.
In reaching out to L&J Body & Fender Works the following day, a representative from the company stated that they were not even aware they had been approved to be put back on the rotation to tow in the Borough and had not heard anything from the Borough Clerk’s office since June.
Amid the vague mentions of ‘issues’ with the towing company, nothing was ever stated by anyone on the dais as to a concrete example pointing out such issues or a reason as to why the borough clerk would not sign the license. Roselle Park News has begun to submit Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests not only to the borough but other municipalities in the county in order to prepare for a follow-up article in 2016 that will provide more insight on the issue.
For now, the municipality will wait to see if L&J will proceed with litigation or if the towing company will simply remove their application and move on.