RARITAN, NJ - An anti-nepotism ordinance was a major topic of discussion at the Raritan virtual council meeting last week.
Councilman Pablo Orozco started things off by questioning borough attorney Bill Robertson about the status of an anti-nepotism draft ordinance that was previously requested.
Robertson said he would prepare a draft ordinance for council consideration, but that he wanted to be sure everyone understands what’s being requested. An anti-nepotism law would prohibit the employment of family members, he said, and that needs to be given some thought and the specifics clearly defined.
He questioned whether it would include full and part time employment, summer work, board appointments and so on.
“I would need guidance as to how broad,” Robertson said. “I could prepare a sample, but I need authorization from the council.”
Councilwoman Joyce Melitsky questioned what constitutes relatives.
“Are we talking about people that live in the same structure?” she asked.
Robertson said it is much broader than that, and read off a string of possibilities, including spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, in-laws, half-brothers and half-sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, step-parents, step-children, first cousins, domestic partners and co-habitants.
“I think we’re going to have some issues,” Melitsky said, “as this is a small borough.”
Councilman Paul Giraldi added, “This is something we should push back until we have a regular meeting. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re going to bring out something that’s never been brought out before? We don’t even know if it’s something we would want to do. It’s the wrong time to begin talking about something that’s brand new.”
Councilwoman Joan Hutzler and Melitsky agreed.
“I’m not asking to debate it,” Orozco said. “What I’m asking is for Bill to prepare us a sample. I provided him with two sample ordinances that our neighboring towns are doing. This isn’t something rare, we’re actually the rare ones for not doing it. Ethics is something that’s on everybody’s books.”
Giraldi and Orzoco volleyed back and forth over the timetable for looking into this ordinance.
“I didn’t say to bury it, I said let’s push it back a month to when we have a regular meeting and we can discuss it,” Giraldi said. “It’s not something we gotta do right now.”
But Orozco countered with an opinion that it is the right time to move forward.
“There is nothing to do right now other than to ask Bill to prepare a something for us,” he said. “He’s our legal counsel, that’s what he does.”
The tension grew as Giraldi pushed back.
“Yeah but you’re the one asking, the council isn’t asking him to do that,” he said. “I’ve been up here 10 years and have to tell you I don’t ever recall having any in-depth conversations about nepotism issues in 10 years, so maybe it can wait another month.”
The back and forth continued with neither councilman giving up ground.
“The only thing I’m asking for is for Bill to have something prepared for us once we are back on a regular schedule so we can start talking about this,” Orozco said, “because otherwise what’s going to happen is we’re going to get back to regular meetings and then we’ll talk about this and nothing’s going to happen for a year-and-a-half, two years from now. That’s why I want Bill to get something started.”
The conversation seemed to go full circle as Giraldi pointed out, “Bill’s already got copies. It’s not like he has to produce anything. You can get copies from any town in New Jersey.”
At that point, Mayor Zachary Bray stepped in. He noted that at the last in-person council meeting Orozco provided two sample ordinances that had already been passed, one from Branchburg and the other from Bedminster.
Again, the discussion seemed to go around and around. Orozco, the only Democrat on the otherwise all Republican council, kept trying to clarify that he did supply samples at the last regular meeting and at that time Robertson was asked to prepare a draft. He was just following up on that request.
Robertson said he didn’t believe that a request to prepare a draft ordinance was made by the full council.
“I’m happy to do it if that’s what the council wants,” he said.
Again he explained that he would need clarification about the scope of the ordinance, including the definition of the family relationships and whether employment includes police and fire personnel.
Giraldi was asked if he wanted to participate in preparing the ordinance, but he declined, holding his ground.
“It’s a not a pressing issue, this is a subject I don’t even want to talk about,” he said. “I think it could be pushed off a month or two.”
In the end, it was decided that Orozco and councilman Michael Patente will work with the attorney to shape the draft ordinance for presentation to the full council.