You know it’s not going to be an average Board of Education meeting when the police chief is in the audience and the board attorney sits on stage next to the board’s most controversial member.
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, in an unprecedented act by the board, young trustee and former board president Cosmo Cirillo was voted off the board by three of the five members.
Board Vice President Vilma Reyes presented a motion to have Cirillo removed from the board based on the recommendation of two letters issued by the NJ Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Outside Activities of Judiciary Employees (AOC). Trustee Christine Piscitelli seconded it, and the vote began.
“Option number one, you step down. Option number two, I’m going to have the police gently escort you out of here.” –Mayor Felix Roque to Cosmo Cirillo
Cirillo was an ally of former Mayor Sal Vega. Vega lost re-election in May to current Mayor Felix Roque.
Roque has been trying to remove some of Vega’s appointees. He was successful in getting two other board members removed who had been appointed at the last minute by Vega, which violates a state rule.
Cirillo was still on the board last week because he had appealed his ruling. But the most recent letter stated that the AOC had reviewed the documents that Cirillo and his attorney, Edward T. Rogan, had submitted in protest, and they would not change the outcome.
Face-off with the mayor
Three members voted yes to Reyes’ motion to vote Cirillo off the board. Sara Gastanadui abstained due to, she said, insufficient evidence. Cirillo voted no. The audience applauded. “Por fin,” some called out, which means “finally.”
And then he refused to leave.
Most of the audience was outraged. One member repeatedly urged, “Llame la policía!” (“Call the police!”). Others chanted, “Enough is enough!”
This is when Mayor Felix Roque approached the board.
In a face-off more befitting British Parliament, Cirillo and Roque argued back and forth. “I’ve asked you this multiple times, the AOC has told you multiple times that you are wrong for staying,” Roque said. “Your board members have asked you nicely to step down.”
Cirillo responded, “Mayor, I’ve served on this board since 2007. There is a very simple solution. Transfer me right now.” A transfer to another city job might alleviate the conflict, but Roque said it was too late.
“I’m not asking you now; I’m telling you now,” Roque said. “Option number one, you step down. Option number two, I’m going to have the police gently escort you out of here.”
The audience then broke into applause.
Warm and fuzzy
Cirillo then insisted that, even if he temporarily stepped down from the board for the evening, he still had a right to sit in on the meeting. So Roque altered his ultimatum a little bit.
“You can sit here, next to me,” he offered. “I will hold your hand if you want.”
As the laughter died down in the auditorium, Roque gave the board a two-minute recess so that Cirillo could make his decision. Police Chief Michael Indri and a security guard were brought up to the stage to oversee the recess, but their services were not needed as Cirillo chose to sit in the audience. He reiterated to the board that it was not a voluntary step-down.
The calm after the storm
But was the board’s vote a legitimate way to remove Cirillo?
Once the meeting resumed, the board attorney noted that in order to come to a final decision, he’d have to conduct further research into NJ Statute 18:A, 12-3 which deals with the tenets involved in voting a member off the board.
Piscitelli said she was disinclined to spend taxpayer money to review a statute after the AOC had already come to a legal decision.
“How can the board be expected to not follow the law?” she asked. “This is not just a decision made by the board, but by those in the legal profession.”
After the meeting concluded its public session, Cirillo told the Reporter, “I am disheartened that the board is willing to take this stance against one of its own members.”
He went on to say that he doesn’t believe the AOC has jurisdiction over the board, nor does the board have the right to remove its own members, despite the aforementioned statute.
Cirillo plans to formally request a transfer to another town department so that his position on the board will no longer be a conflict.
Roque responded simply, “Why didn’t he think of this four months ago?”