After months of court proceedings, Hudson County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter Bariso ruled in favor of placing a question on the Bayonne runoff ballot about whether or not city employees should have to live where they work.
Representing the city, Michael D’Aquanni of Roth D’Aquanni LLC in Springfield, argued vociferously that the plaintiff Pat Desmond’s petitions contained signatures that didn’t clearly match the declarations his office received from Desmond just yesterday.
“Of the 42 declarations that we received, the city’s clerk determined that 15 of those signatures [the number of outstanding signatures that were the subject of a court hearing yesterday] were legitimate signatures of registered voters,” he said.
“However, in reviewing the declarations provided to us yesterday an issue came to light that calls into question dozens, if not more than that, of other signatures.”
D’Aquanni went on to say that those “fraudulent signatures” should be rejected on that basis.
However, Bariso angrily rejected D’Aquanni’s argument, saying that scenario would require Desmond to start requesting signatures from scratch.
“You’re saying that the declarations that were obtained by the plaintiff raise issues as to the validity of the signatures,” Bariso told D’Aquanni.
“They may not look exactly alike, but I am not going to accept the fact that what you’re asking me to infer is that all those other petitions that were submitted were fraudulent. What are you saying, that these people didn’t sign in front of the individuals who certified them? Case law says they don’t have to be identical.”
Bariso further stated that the court finds that there is sufficient signatures for the question to be placed on the ballot for the May 8 Bayonne municipal elections.
D’Aquanni quickly responded, however, that even with the petition’s certification New Jersey statute NJSA40:69A-189 grants a statutory period of time for a governing body, such as a city council, to decide whether to repeal the current residency ordinance [on the books but not enforced].
They also have the option to call a special election to send it to the voters for a vote.
Bayonne City Clerk Robert Sloan told the court that the statutory time period is 20 days from the day that the petition is certified for the City Council to decide the issue.
Desmond was less than thrilled since that would mean the question wouldn’t make the May 8th ballot.
As a result, he told Bariso that Sloan had personally informed him, Desmond, that the petitions had already been certified weeks before, prompting the judge to ask Sloan to take the stand.
“You first certified that 721 petitions were correct, the first time around,” Desmond asked Sloan.
“That’s right,” Sloan responded.
“You told me that I needed 254 more. And I got the 254 more,” Desmond continued.
“You were close,” Sloan stated.
That’s when Desmond accused Sloan of passing off the petitions to former Business Administrator Joe DeMarco and Law Director Jay Coffey who invalidated the signatures: two officials who do not live within Bayonne and therefore the referendum is directed at.
“That’s not true,” Sloan emphatically responded.
The judge intervened to quash the back and forth, reminding Desmond that the ruling today mandates that the city must certify his petitions. Therefore, the question will appear on the June 12th ballot – the day of the Bayonne runoff elections.
But that still didn’t appease Desmond as he expects the City Council to repeal the current ordinance.
On camera we asked Sloan about Desmond’s fear that the council will just outright repeal the ordinance.
“If they repeal it, we go back to the original residency ordinance that’s been on the books for a long, long time but never enforced. But as of October 1, 2017, the city is going to enforce residency,” said Sloan.
“New hires now have to sign a statement that they have to abide by it. So if that ordinance gets thrown out [at the April 18 City Council meeting], the old version goes back into effect. So then it becomes a political question, whether the administration is going to go after people who have moved out of town. The petitioners mentioned Joe DeMarco today, who is currently on a leave of absence, so ultimately they may have won what they were really looking for.”
Desmond, a childhood friend of Mayor Jimmy Davis, spearheaded a recall of the incumbent in late 2016, but did not follow through on submitting the signatures he had collected.