Candidate for council questions resignation timetable

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:34

    Some on council knew of McLaughlin’s departure a month before announcement, By Jennifer Knocha Vernon — On May 5, Township Clerk Robyn Kline received a letter from Deputy Mayor Glenn McLaughlin resigning from his position on the township council for “family reasons.” His resignation, formally announced to the public at the May 14 council meeting, soon became a matter for controversy. Sally Rinker, a candidate for the town council, stood up at the May 14 meeting and accused the council of “a possible purposeful manipulation of election outcomes and filling a vacant council seat.” Rinker passed around an e-mail, dated April 8, addressed to the Township Manager Melinda Carlton, township attorney Michael Witt, and the mayor and town council. In that e-mail, in the exact same words as the May 5 e-mail McLaughlin announced his resignation. But when they were asked by Rinker, neither Councilperson Valerie Seufert nor Councilman Richard Carson could say that they had ever seen the original e-mail. “Well, looking at this first hand, this is a little confusing to me and to say the least a bit disturbing from my point of view,” said Carson. Then, Carson asked the township attorney for clarification. “Probably Mike, you really need to address this, because it was my understanding that he had notified you in particular that he (McLaughlin) intended to resign, but we never had any type of official letter. Then during the course of April, he missed several regular and special meetings, but there was never any mention as to an official resignation so something’s clearly not right here, in my opinion.” When questioned, Mayor Austin Carew admitted that he had gotten the earlier letter, but had little else to say on the subject. Timing is everything Rinker next questioned whose responsibility it was to make sure that the resignation had been sent to the whole council. Witt said that the responsibility was McLaughlin, who was also to notify the town clerk. By state law, the resignation of a township official is not official until it reaches the hands of the township clerk, who is also the official secretary of the town council. “I spoke with Deputy Mayor McLaughlin on May 4, 2009,” said Rinker. “He told me that he had resigned on April 8, 2009. He also told me he was asked to wait until after April 6, 2009 to resign. Apparently, he obliged on April 8, 2009. When I made it clear to Mr. McLaughlin that no one knew he resigned, he immediately sent a letter the next day, reiterating the April 8, 2009 notice of resignation.” Rinker wouldn’t comment on who had asked McLaughlin to hold off on his resignation, but pointed out that the deadline for primary candidates to get on the ballot for November’s general election was April 6, leading to her allegations of an attempt to manipulate election results. But what also disturbed her, she said, was the ramifications of the delay in moving to fill McLaughlin’s seat. “We had several important and controversial issues voted on by this council, after the resignation of Deputy Mayor Glenn McLaughlin, with no attempt to fill his vacated seat,” she said. “We, the public were disadvantaged by not having a fully seated council.” Resident Gary Martins agreed, saying “Hearing these things is very disturbing, especially if the manager, mayor and council let meetings proceed and votes be taken when the opinions and votes of Glenn McLaughlin or someone who had taken his place could have been considered.” What does the law say? During the public session of the May 14 Vernon Council meeting, former Freeholder and Vernon mayor Victor Marotta stood up to say, “The law is quite clear. I have spent my own personal money and my own personal time, and I am here to tell you that the time for appointing a replacement for Mr. McLaughlin has expired and if you follow the bad advice of your attorney you will find yourselves in court and I will be the plaintiff.” Marotta was referring to state statute NJSA 40A:16-11, also called the Municipal Vacancy Law, which provides that if a governing body member who was the nominee of a political party resigns, the municipal committee of that party has 15 days from the date of the vacancy to present three candidates for the office to the governing body. The governing body then has 30 days to appoint one of these three individuals to the position. The Vernon Township Republican County Committee met on May 11 to nominate Andrea “Bunny” Cocula, Paul Emilius and Jill DeYoung as candidates for the vacancy left by McLaughlin. Normally, one of these people would then be chosen by the town council to fill the vacancy, or if they were unable to choose one, the Republican Committee would appoint one of the nominees themselves. But, depending on when the resignation of McLaughlin is counted from — his original resignation of April 8, or the current official date of May 5 — the actions of the committee may be invalid.