Despite an effort to remove him from his current position, City Council President Peter Brennan will be able to keep his post, thanks to a swing vote from newly-appointed Ward F Councilwoman Michele Massey.
An ordinance that would allow the council to change its president every two years, rather than every four years, passed Wednesday night by a vote of 5 to 4. However, Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy – a strong Brennan ally – has already said he will veto the measure. It could return to the City Council for an override – but an override of a veto would require six votes, not five.
‘There has been no documentation provided to me that shows just cause for doing this.’ – Michele Massey
When this measure was introduced on Jan. 11, Massey abstained, noting that as a new representative, she needed more information before casting a vote in favor or against the proposal. On Wednesday, she said the information she has received since then does not support Brennan’s removal.
“I find it unfortunate that [a majority] of governing body members have expressed their discomfort with the current leadership,” Massey said. “I cannot speak to Councilman Brennan’s performance because I have not been here. There has been no documentation provided to me that shows just cause for doing this. I cannot support taxpayers paying for a lawsuit.” Brennan has threatened to sue if he is removed as council president on the grounds that his constitutional right to due process would have been violated.
In a Jan. 9 letter addressed to the City Council, Corporation Counsel William Matsikoudis wrote that “terminating Council President Brennan’s term without cause and without a hearing will likely be deemed a violation of his constitutional right to due process. If Council President Brennan were to successfully challenge the proposed ordinance on constitutional grounds, he may very well be entitled to damages and attorneys’ fees.”
But a lawsuit seems unlikely given Healy’s promised veto and Wednesday’s vote.
Healey said in a written statement Wednesday night, “The City Council’s action is illegal and, as stated in two opinions rendered by the corporation council, violates the rights of Council President Brennan. This ordinance was arbitrary and capricious, serves no purpose, and was created solely for political motives. It does nothing to better the lives of the residents of Jersey City and only serves to expose the taxpayers to the costs of a lawsuit. For all of those reasons, I will veto this ordinance.”
Healy has 10 days to veto the ordinance, according to Matsikoudis, which could then be sent back to the council for an override.
The ordinance was drafted at the request of Lopez, a Richardson ally, and was introduced to edge Brennan out of the council president seat so he could be replaced with Richardson.
Lavarro: New council, new prez
The council elected Brennan to be president after the September 2010 resignation of Mariano Vega, who was the president until he pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Brennan’s term ends on June 30, 2013, and the City Council is expected to hold its next reorganization meeting on July 1, 2013.
The next citywide municipal election will be held in May 2013.
The ordinance that passed Wednesday gives the council the ability to elect a new president every two years. At present, a council president is elected every four years, after regularly-scheduled municipal elections.
Before casting his vote in favor of the ordinance, Lavarro pointed out that – due to resignations, appointments, and a special election last November – the makeup of the council has changed since Brennan was made president. Thus, the new council should have the right to select a new leader, he said.
“The council has changed four members,” said Lavarro. “So, as far as I’m concerned, this is a new council and the term of the council president should be consistent with the will of the [current] council.”
In the unlikely event that Healy’s veto is overridden by the council, Brennan has already retained attorney Thomas Flinn of Garrity Graham Murphy Garofalo Flinn to represent him.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.