Community: Court Ordered Re-Vote on Council Vacancy Postponed
The court ordered re-vote on the proposed appointment of Jim Doyle to fill the City Council vacancy, which had been scheduled for tonight’s Council Meeting, has been postponed. The vote will not occur until the Appellate Division decides whether it will entertain an appeal at this time on the issue of whether Hudson County Assignment Judge Peter Bariso had the authority to order the re-vote.
Judge Bariso had ordered the re-vote last Friday, requiring that all eight City Council members participate. While votes on the appointment were taken in October at the two meetings immediately following the occurrence of the vacancy, the issue has never been considered at a meeting at which all eight remaining Council Members were present. Councilwoman Beth Mason and Councilman Michael Russo were each absent at one of the two October meetings.
At each of the meetings, four City Councilmembers voted in favor of Mr. Doyle's appointment, as did Mayor Zimmer, who is permitted by law to break a deadlock by casting the deciding vote in the event of a tie. At a previous hearing, Judge Bariso ruled that despite the four affirmative votes, the Mayor's additional vote could not be counted unless there were four votes cast against the appointment. As a result, there were not enough votes to fill the vacancy at the October meetings.
Surprisingly, this was not because of insufficient affirmative votes but because, as a result of the absences and abstentions of Councilwoman Mason and Councilman Russo, there were not enough votes cast against the appointment for a tie to exist.
Judge Bariso's ruling ordering all City Council members to participate would ensure that eight votes were cast, making it possible for a tie to occur. A hearing had been scheduled for January 2nd to determine whether any abstentions cast at the re-vote would be counted as "no" votes for the purpose of determining whether the Mayor can cast the deciding vote. If an abstention is considered a "no" vote, four affirmative votes plus the Mayor's vote, as were cast at both the October meetings, would be sufficient to fill the vacancy.
The request for an appeal asserts that Judge Bariso did not have the authority to order the re-vote because more than 30 days has now elapsed since the vacancy arose. While appeals are generally heard only after a final ruling has been made, the application asserts that special circumstances exist requiring the appeal on this issue to be heard prior to a final ruling “in the interests of justice.”
If the re-vote ordered by Judge Bariso is not permitted, the Council seat will remain vacant until December 31st, 2013, potentially resulting in a 4-4 deadlock on important issues.