Vernon councilmembers butt heads over meeting safety request

VERNON. Two councilmembers want security installed before returning in-person, three others find no need for the measure.

Vernon /
| 29 Jul 2022 | 02:33

Both Councilmen Harry Shortway and Mike Furrey announced on July 25 that they would return to the council chamber when Council President Patrick Rizzuto stations a sergeant-at-arms outside the council meeting in case the meeting becomes unruly.

They have not attended a meeting in person since April 11, just virtually.

Shortway pointed to recent shootings and a 2019 Township Council meeting as basis for his call for a sergeant-at-arms to be present at their meetings to prevent disruptions.

Rizzuto said he didn’t believe an officer either in uniform or in plain clothes belongs at a township meeting.

“I think the presence of a uniformed officer is an intimidation factor by itself,” Rizzuto said. “And having somebody here in plain clothes is being deceitful to the people of the township that they guard.”

Shortway also accused supporters of Buccieri, Rizzuto and Lynch – all elected last year – of purposely creating a disruptive environment by their allegations of lawlessness by Mayor Howard Burrell and others.

“Our own ordinance calls for decorum at council meetings and the chief of police or members of a police department may designate a ‘sergeant-at-arms’ shall be in attendance at the council meetings when requested by the mayor or the council president.”

Rizzuto said he has lived in Vernon for close to 55 years, and while he has attended a lot of meetings, he has never felt threatened.

“No matter how riled up people seem to have gotten, whether it be about children, whether it be about sports or something here, and to rely upon the presence of one of our own to protect us against one of our own, I find troublesome.”

The council tried to introduce an ordinance that would have only allowed a councilperson to attend two meetings via teleconferencing per calendar year. It would also prohibit more than one councilperson to attend electronically per meeting.

However, Councilman Brian Lynch asked for the ordinance to be tabled.

“This ordinance is not complete,” Lynch said. “There is nothing in this ordinance that stipulates any consequence for any of the dereliction of duty that’s currently happening. I would like to see some wording in what will be the consequence for not attending the meeting.”

The introduction was tabled by a 3-2 vote. Furrey and Shortway voted against it.

“I find it laughable that two council members could sit home and point fingers at three councilmen that choose to do their job,” Lynch said. “Every time there’s a meeting, we’re here. I understand you’re afraid. I promise if you come here, I will make sure nothing happens to you.”