Councilwoman Offers No Comment On Question Of ‘Collusion’

The March 3rd Mayor & Council regular meeting had a question posed to Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey during the public comment portion for which she declined to comment. The question was if the councilwoman discussed the assigning of duties of a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) with the Borough Clerk Doreen Cali before presenting the resolution at the February 4th Mayor & Council meeting.

“In this particular instance,” replied the councilwoman, “I’m going to make no comment.”

This non-answer brings into question not only how the resolution was handled but also comments made by the Borough Clerk earlier in the meeting when she stated that she was falsely accused publicly of improprieties.

At one point the former elected official asked the direct question regarding Ms. Cali and the resolution, “Did she express an interest to you that she wanted that job?”

At the end of the February 4th meeting, Councilwoman Storey moved a verbal resolution to assign the duties of a CAO to Ms. Cali along with an additional $25,000 salary increase. The resolution was proposed without any advanced notice and clearly took two councilmembers – Ryan Kelly and Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley – as well as Mayor Carl Hokanson completely by surprise. Amid comments and questions regarding the sudden out-of-the-blue nature of the resolution, the councilwoman called for a vote. In a surprise turn, Councilman Mohamed ‘Gino’ Elmarassy – who had just previously seconded the motion to introduce the resolution – voted ‘no’ on its adoption. This resulted in a 3-3 tie with Mayor Hokanson voting no to defeat the resolution.

This action was followed at the next Mayor & Council meeting on February 18th with members of the public commenting and questioning the manner in which some perceived the resolution to be underhanded and a pre-planned scheme. In particular, with the councilwoman having information on-hand regarding meeting procedure and specific wording in the resolution that assigned the Borough Clerk certain duties instead of appointing the clerk to the position. It is almost always the Borough Clerk who writes the resolutions. It was hard for many of those in attendance who spoke to believe that such a resolution and accompanying pay would not be discussed with Ms. Cali beforehand.

Among those who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting on the 18th was former Third Ward Councilman Robert Rubilla. During his – at times – heated exchange with the councilwoman, Mr. Rubilla had to repeatedly be reminded to address questions and comments through the chair. At one point the former elected official asked the direct question regarding Ms. Cali and the resolution, “Did she express an interest to you that she wanted that job?”

After three seconds of silence from Councilwoman Storey, Mr. Rubilla started to ask the question again, this time having it sound like a cross-examination during a trial, “Did Mrs. Cali . . .”

“Excuse me,” interrupted the councilwoman, “Would you give me a chance . . .”

She herself was cut off by Richard Huxford, the Borough Attorney, who again reminded Mr. Rubilla that all questions need to go through the chair. Mayor Hokanson added, “You can’t go back and forth.”

Mr. Rubilla apologized and continued with his comments. The question was never addressed by Councilwoman Storey.

When actually given the chance to respond during the February 18th meeting, the councilwoman opted not to do so.

This does not help matters for the Borough Clerk who made allusions to suing the borough during her statements at that same meeting where she made a point of wanting to put things on-the-record. Ms. Cali’s remarks were in response to Fifth Ward Councilman Shipley who said during his council report about the February 4th meeting, “I stand by my belief that Councilwoman Storey and [Borough] Clerk Cali were in collusion for last Thursday’s debacle.”

He additionally stated that he felt the nature in which the resolution was handled by Councilwoman Storey was reckless and deceitful. The ‘no comment’ from Councilwoman Storey lessens the weight of any potential defense used by Ms. Cali against defamation since it was not a flat-out denial of Councilman Shipley’s statement.

If Ms. Cali were to proceed with litigation against the borough for false accusations, she would have to submit a Notice Of Claim within 90 days of the occurrence. A Notice Of Claim does not mean that a lawsuit or legal action will automatically be taken by someone, it just puts a government entity on notice that someone might be seeking a claim for damages. This would not be the first time that Ms. Cali, as the Borough Clerk, has filed a Notice Of Claim against Roselle Park. In 2013, she submitted one (link) although to date she has not filed any lawsuit for that claim. Previous to that she filed a lawsuit against the Town of Kearny in 2006 where she was the Township Clerk which was settled in 2009.

The Borough Clerk has until May 18th to file a Notice Of Claim against the borough for this incident if she chooses to proceed with the matter legally.