BREAKING: Appellate court rules Zimmer’s Doyle appointment illegal, offering clearer definition of ‘abstention’
Jul 05, 2013 | 5411 views | 10 10 comments | 281 281 recommendations | email to a friend | print

HOBOKEN – The appellate division of the Superior Court of New Jersey on Friday ruled that Jim Doyle, the man Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer chose to fill a vacated seat on the city council last fall but who has yet to attend a meeting, could not legally join the council. The decision marks the end of one of the city’s longest-lasting political showdowns in recent memory, but leaves unanswered serious questions about the productivity of the city’s legislative body for the remainder of its current session, which will end following upcoming November elections.

The appellate court’s ruling reversed a previous decision regarding several council votes that would have appointed Doyle. The previous decision had defined the abstentions of Zimmer’s opponents on the council – Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason and Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo – as votes against Doyle. On Friday, the appellate court said none of the votes were legitimate because a tie-breaking vote was unnecessary. The tie-breaker was not needed because the abstentions by Russo and Mason had not been considered as votes against Doyle.

The Doyle saga began when former Councilwoman-at-Large Carol Marsh resigned from her seat in October, resulting in an eight-member council, split evenly along pro- and anti-Zimmer lines. From October to December, Zimmer’s faction – consisting of Council President Peter Cunningham, Council Vice President Jen Giattino, Councilmen-at-Large Ravinder “Ravi” Bhalla, and David Mello--attempted on three occasions to seat Doyle via tie-breaking votes by Zimmer.

The anti-Zimmer faction, led by Mason and Russo but also consisting of First Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano and Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti, sued Zimmer and her allies on the council over the appointment, arguing that their abstentions should not count as votes against Doyle (thus allowing Zimmer the go-ahead to break the tie). Instead, the abstentions should not be counted as votes at all, according to the anti-Zimmer faction. At subsequent meetings in October, Russo and Mason were either absent from the meetings or abstained from the vote, leading Zimmer’s allies to consider the votes as 4-4 ties.

The appellate division sided with Mason and Russo, citing the 1876 legal statute “Robert’s Rules of Order,” which the city employs to govern its legislative proceedings. In “Robert’s Rules,” an abstention is defined as “an oxymoron, an abstention being a refusal to vote. To abstain means to refrain from voting, and, as a consequence, there can be no such thing as an ‘abstention vote.’”

Under “Robert’s Rules,” none of Zimmer’s tie-breaking votes were legal because none were 4-4 ties. Due to the abstentions, all would have been either four in favor, two against, one abstention or one absence, or four in favor, two against, and two abstaining.

The decision bodes poorly for Mayor Zimmer, who hoped to seat an ally on the council prior to naming a running mate in the upcoming November mayoral and council elections, but also for the city itself, which has been the victim of a political standstill due to continued stagnancy in the council chambers since Marsh stepped down. Countless important votes have ended in 4-4 ties, including those dealing with Hurricane Sandy relief and the city’s budget, which was only recently adopted after months of deliberation.

On Friday, Zimmer said that despite the ruling, her opponents’ tactics were not in the best interests of the city.

“The appellate division ruled that it’s legal to obstruct an appointment, and [that decision] will leave the city council deadlocked for 15 months,” she said, referring to the time period between last October and Jan. 1, 2014, when new council members will be sworn in. “While the court said it’s legally permissible, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do for the city.”

Mason issued a press release Friday morning condemning Zimmer and her allies for using what she called “scare tactics” to mislead the public, and defended herself against claims that suing the city resulted in a deadlocked council.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. My position has always been simple, I will support the Mayor when she is right and oppose her when she is wrong,” she said. “The political bosses in City Hall may not like it, but my loyalty has and always will belong to the people not to them.”

Marsh’s still-vacant at-Large council seat will be up for grabs in the November council election. Zimmer is expected to name a candidate for the seat to her slate, but no opposition candidates have yet been announced. – Dean DeChiaro

Comments
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PAX07030
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July 07, 2013
As a true reformer Beth Mason has been a failure.

A majority of people in Hoboken figured that out awhile back.

Now that she has abandoned that position it makes sence that she would use her great wealth to try to change the rules in her favor.

This court decision does change the rules and leaves not

only Hoboken but all New Jersey municipalities open to being held hostage by one disgrunteled politician.

Now that Mason seems to have got her rule change we can look forward to months more of obstrution and deadlockedCity Council
SeventhStop
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July 07, 2013
This is the type of thing that drives some of us in town, real reformers (not just calling ourselves that); crazy and makes us want to tear all our hair out. If the proper process had been followed in the 1st place and the city lawyers had given decent advice, Doyle would be seated by now and everything would be fine. Where were the city's highly paid attorneys in the first place?

Trying to hurry things up and do an end-run around the legal process only backfired. When Dawn tries to use Old Guard tactics and justify it by saying it is a way to fight corruption is ludacris. You cannot fight corruption with the same unlawful tactics and try to seem like you are moving Hoboken ahead. I don't care if it's just once in a while, using smarmy political tactics will always be smarmy.

Dawn is far and wide better then what's out there and certainly what has come before. These slipups will not stop her from winning the election. But they remind us that a politician is as politician does. Dawn is getting too influenced by Hudson County and forgetting her roots. Many will not give her a wake up call. There are a few of us who have the guts to tell her this. They are the brave ones and the real reformers who will lead us away from the Russos/Masons/et cetera and into the light.

It does this town no favors to blame the appellate court judges or keep trying to justify goofs like this. We need to hold Dawn to the high standards we deserve, rather then comparing her to the past. We deserve nothing less.

PAX07030
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July 07, 2013
I think most people understand who are real reformers in Hoboken and frankly your posts are so anti Administration that you come off in the minds of as Mason operative.

Tottenhamwins
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July 07, 2013
Guess you missed the part where the only reason Dawn couldn't cast the tie breaking vote is Mason and Russo each skipped a meeting on purpose so there could never be a 4-4 tie. So why are you blaming Dawn if the only reason this suit had legs was the people suing her deliberately engineered the vote to prevent a 4-4 tie? All they had to do was show up and vote yes or no. Only someone deliberately setting the city up for a law suit and a 4-4 tie til November would do anything but vote Yes or No.
SeventhStop
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July 07, 2013
That's right, Pax, that's the answer to any valid criticism of city hall these days. "You must be a mason operative." There are some of us with intelligence and a clear mind who have not been scared silent yet. Of course if I use my real name i will be smeared on one of the so called 'anti corruption' blogs that are really just pro-the blog owners riding Dawn's coattails.

I'm tired of politicians. And I just don't like it when Dawn acts like one. Or when someone (Juan maybe?) sits on the net all day beating up on anyone who wants the city to do even better then it has. I am all for Pax in 07030, let's not all wound each other with friendly fire, shall we?
PAX07030
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July 07, 2013
There was no hurry, no end runs or smarmy tactics used or goofs and for SeventhStop to use those terms makes his protests ring hollow and his motives here suspect.

I agree with SS that the Russos/Masons/Ramos/et cetera have cast a dark shadow over our we deserve better.

PAX07030
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July 07, 2013
...the Russos/Masons/Ramos/et cetera have cast a dark shadow over our city for far too long and we deserves better.
VoteHoboken
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July 06, 2013
I expect Jim Doyle will run for City Councilman at Large and be voted into office along with Councilpersons Bhalla, Cunningham, Giattino and Mello.

Hoboken's voters have seen through the rhetoric and learned who the good guys are.
VoteHoboken
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July 06, 2013
For those interested the court papers are posted on www.hobokenhorse.com
ConvenientPolitics
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July 06, 2013
Blind allegiance is so unfortunate. It is amazing how power chips away at integrity.