A Hudson County Superior Court judge has ruled that Secaucus Councilman Michael Gonnelli, who also serves as deputy chief of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department, must vacate one of his positions. After hearing arguments from attorneys for Gonnelli and the town, Judge Barry P. Sarkisian ruled, "There is clearly an incompatibility between the offices of councilman, battalion chief, deputy chief, and chief [of the fire department]."
Gonnelli has until Tuesday, March 24 to make a decision. He must formally notify the Town Council of his decision by 3:30 p.m., when the next council caucus meeting begins.
Gonnelli, who said before the hearing that he expected to lose in court, has decided not to appeal Sarkisian's ruling and will step down as deputy fire chief, he said Friday. He was expected to move up to the role of chief later this year.
"I respect the judge's decision. I'm glad this is over," Gonnelli said the day after the court ruling. "The decision is a burden off my back. And I'm glad this is no longer going to be a burden to the fire department."
Gonnelli will remain a member of the Secaucus Fire Department.
"We needed to have a decision, one way or another," said Town Administrator David Drumeler. "This issue was getting to be a distraction. So, I'm glad it's ended."
The councilman, who is often at odds with Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, is considering a run for mayor later this year as an Independent. Gonnelli's decision to give up the fire post and remain on the Town Council is certain to fuel speculation that he will indeed launch a candidacy against Elwell, a Democrat.
"I am leaning in that direction 100 percent, but I don't want to throw my hat in the ring too early," Gonnelli said. "There is still a Democratic primary to be held and Elwell still has to win that race."
Elwell faces a Democratic primary in June against challenger Peter Weiner. - E. Assata Wright