Rules? What Rules?
Fern Goodhart, who won a three-year council term last year, accepted a job offer in Washington, D.C., meaning she cannot serve her new term. As the law requires, she took office at the Borough Council's reorganization meeting on January 7, 2008 and then promptly submitted her resignation.
What occurred after that is highly problematic. At the very same meeting, the council appointed Padraic Millet to fill the vacancy, citing his as one of three names submitted by the Democratic Municipal Committee to fill the vacancy.
Under state-governed procedure, the party of the person who resigns an elected office must name three potential replacements within 15 days of the person's resignation. The council then has 30 days from that person's resignation to pick one of the three nominees submitted by the party.
Here in Highland Park, several rules were ignored in the process of filling the vacancy left by Goodhart. First, the Democratic Committee was never given the 15-day period to submit the three names. Second and far more important, the Committee never held a meeting or the required interview for the selection of the three nominees.
The chair and vice chair of the party simply submitted three names to the council before Goodhart had even formally resigned. Most Democratic Committee members were not even aware of the resignation. Apparently, chair Bruce Morgan and vice chair Diane Weinberg are psychic, as they knew in advance that Goodhart planned to resign and on their own submitted three names for her replacement.
This in no way is intended to disparage Millet, who is hard working and dedicated and has done his best in taking on his new responsibilities as a council member. It is solely directed at the leadership of the Democratic Municipal Committee, which ignored proper procedure and acted on its own without bothering to inform fellow committee members of the vacancy, hold an interview process to recruit nominees, or allow for the appropriate time periods the process requires.
Mayor Frank continues to pride herself and her administration as paragons of open government and transparency. But it is actions that count, not words. Here we see the exact opposite of openness and transparency--not even an attempt to appear to be following procedure. This is the way dictatorships and oligarchies operate, not the way democracies operate.
Even members of the Democratic Committee were outraged at being completely left out of the loop in this action.
This is not the first time the party leadership has ignored rules and procedures. The last time a council vacancy occurred, no interview process was conducted either. The chair simply submitted three names without even convening the committee.
And in the case of an earlier vacancy, when there had been an actual interview process, the committee chair named only two people to the council for consideration, refusing to name a third even though three people had interviewed. That third person happened to be me. While I am not angry or bitter about not being chosen, I do take issue with the fact that the chair so cavalierly violated the law by refusing to name all three people who interviewed.
Appropriately, formal complaints have been filed with the county Democratic chair, state Democratic chair, and Middlesex County Prosecutor regarding the complete contempt for proper procedure shown in this latest case by the Democratic Municipal Committee's leadership.
In light of this utter contempt for and ignoring of rules issued by the state and followed in every New Jersey municipality, party chair Bruce Morgan and vice chair Diane Weinberg should immediately resign their positions, so new party leaders who respect the law can be chosen.
Once again, we are reminded why it is so important for citizens to run for positions on the Democratic Municipal Committee. If you are a Democrat and believe the same rules should apply to everyone, please consider running for a committee seat when they are up for election again in 2009.