Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rutherford Council Bylaws to be discussed this Wednesday

At a special meeting to be held on January 14, 2009, at 7 p.m. the Rutherford Mayor and Council will discuss amendments to the Council's bylaws.

In its January 12, 2009 letter, the Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project offered some comments and suggestions regarding Rutherford's bylaws. That letter, along with a copy of the present bylaws, is on-line here.

I decided to get involved with Rutherford's bylaws after reading an article in the local paper, which I've pasted below.

Anyone who wishes to make additional suggestions to be considered by the Council at its January 14th meeting can send them to Clerk Mary Kriston at MKriston@rutherford-nj.com

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Out of money and out of patience: Rutherford Council off to a rocky start

By Susan C. Moeller
Senior Reporter

RUTHERFORD (Jan. 2. 2009, 3:15 p.m.) — A deficit and lots of drama marked the beginning of the New Year in Rutherford. The Borough of Trees ended 2008 in the red by approximately $300,000, and Mayor John Hipp accused the council of holding secret meetings and pledged to end the practice.

Bombshell

During his annual address, Hipp dropped a bombshell.

Anytime two members of the council meet to talk about borough business, they are violating the Open Public Meetings Act if they don’t invite the other council members, Hipp continued.

“Those types of secret meetings cannot take place,” he said. “This year we will see to it that there are no secret meetings.”

Hipp strengthened the accusation in an interview after the meeting. The council has had illicit meetings by e-mail, in person and by telephone. “It has gone on in Rutherford,” he said. And, “It goes on in other towns, too.”

Democrat Councilwoman Maura Keyes was livid. “This is supposed to be an upbeat happy day, and we get bombed with something like that.”

“There are no secret meetings,” she said. “Council members are allowed to talk to each other.” When they talk, they aren’t conducting business or making decisions. “We’re not voting,” she said. “We’re not doing anything like that.”

An irate Republican Councilwoman Rose Inguanti also denied Hipp’s statements. “It’s so offensive,” she said. “He’s accusing us of violating the law.” The council’s meetings wouldn’t go on until midnight if the members had met before hand to decide what action to take, Inguanti added.

Deficit

Before newly-elected council members Kim Birdsall and Joe DeSalvo were sworn in, the 2008 council’s final action included a resolution to take $221,000 in unused money from capital projects and put it into a surplus account that will help offset the deficit it is bringing into 2009.

There’s no sofa from which to dig out change, but the borough has been scraping money from wherever it can to make up for a $1.2 million revenue shortfall that is largely attributable to the failure of EnCap Golf Holdings, LLC to pay its taxes. The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission even chipped in $400,000. But, at the end of the day, the borough was still more than half a million short.

Deficits are serious business in the world of municipal finance. Imbalances created by over expenditures are “a violation of the law,” Cortright said.

But, Rutherford’s deficit is not due to overspending. The imbalance stems from revenue shortfalls created by EnCap’s outstanding tax debt, Cortright said.

Legality aside, the Borough of Trees is still not out of the woods.

Rutherford may want to sell bonds next year, Cortright said. And, a deficit in the budget will not look good to investors.

With the dire financial picture painted, and with Birdsall and DeSalvo in their new positions behind the dais, Inguanti broke with political tradition and nominated Keyes as president of the council.

Keyes, who was elected unanimously, in turn nominated Inguanti as Vice-President. Inguanti’s nomination was also confirmed unanimously, making Rutherford’s council the only in South Bergen to be lead by women.

The next order of business, an attempt to amend the council’s bylaws - including a clause to establish an 11 p.m. curfew on meeting times, was tabled after Hipp said that the changes proposed by the council violated state law. He asked for a special meeting to go over the bylaw amendments with a fine-toothed comb.


Originally distributed on January 12, 2009

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