Political Battle Boils Between Councilman, Mayor
Entire council set to weigh in on situation
A pre-election political battle got heated last Thursday when Councilman John Roth, who is up for reelection this November, accused Mayor Bill Laforet of taking “politically-motivated” actions against him. Laforet is also up for reelection this year.
At the Council meeting last week, Roth presented to the rest of the council a letter he received from Laforet regarding an encounter the two had on July 17. Laforet interrupted a conversation at the DPW yard between Roth and Department of Public Works Superintendent Ed Sinclair, who announced earlier this year that he will be challenging Laforet for mayor.
In his note to Roth, Laforet said he was “concerned” about the nature of the conversation he walked in on. According to Laforet’s note, Roth and Sinclair were in DPW Superintendent Keith Hallissey’s office with the door closed.
“I am concerned that either the discussion … was political in nature … or it was a job-related discussion,” Laforet said in the letter. He said both were “violations” – the first of township personnel policies, and the second of the Faulkner Act - which set up Mahwah’s form of government.
According to Roth, the conversation was about neither.
“The purpose of my visit was to ask a couple of questions, as a resident and taxpayer, regarding brush pick up on Armour Road and recycling of electronic equipment,” Roth said Thursday night, and in a note he sent in response to Laforet. “I made it abundantly clear…that I was not there in any official capacity.”
According to the Faulkner Act, council members are restricted in the types of interactions they can have with township employees without mayoral consent. Councilmember “contact with [employees], and all actions and communications concerning the administration of the government and the provision of municipal services shall be through the mayor and his designee,” the act states.
According to Town Council President John Spiech, the practice in Mahwah is to ask Business Administrator Brian Campion before extended conversations with township employees.
“The [rule] is in place because there can only be one boss in town; it cuts down on confusion,” Speich said Thursday. “I am always very careful, I always run it by Brian. And, he has never said, ‘no'.”
According to Roth, he is not disputing the restrictions in the Faulkner Act form of government. “There are no rookies on the council, we all know the rules,” he said.
“My concern is that the paradigm has shifted, and now there is this scrutiny of every action, it is inconsistent with the culture of Mahwah. These were harmless inquiries, I’ve never been prosecuted about that before,” Roth said.
Roth added, “I feel bullied by the mayor.”
According to Laforet, he “did not send the letter to press for consequences [for Roth], or anything like that. My intention was to make [Roth] aware of what appeared to be a violation of the Faulkner Act, which we all live by.”
He added, “everyone follows the rules set forth in the Faulkner Act, [Roth] should do the same.”
Laforet said at the meeting his actions “were not motivated by politics,” and suggested that Roth's actions may have been.
Roth requested the council discuss the incident in a public session at an upcoming meeting. He said he made the request so he could receive “clarity about the mayor’s letter.”
Laforet said he “looks forward to discussing this at a public meeting.”
Speich said the discussion, tentatively slated for the August 23 council meeting, will include Laforet, Roth, Sinclair, Hallissey and the other six members of the Mahwah Township Council.