Newton Council Votes to Move Elections, Rejecting the Petition

Credits: Danielle Francisco
Credits: Danielle Francisco
Credits: Danielle Francisco
Credits: Danielle Francisco
Credits: Danielle Francisco

NEWTON, NJ—The contentious issue of moving the Newton Town Council election has been settled, sort of. The town council members voted to allow a ballot question to move the elections, rather than act on the petition submitted during the campaign, at the meeting on Wednesday night.

The council had a 20-day window to act on the Municipal Election petition, Wednesday’s council meeting was held on day 16 and so a decision was needed.

All but one council member, Mayor Wayne Levante, voted to reject the petition after a lengthy discussion with the petitioners and council members.  Instead, council offered a compromise; Ordinance 2018-12, which is “an ordinance directing the clerk of the town of Newton, county of Sussex, state of New Jersey, to submit the following, non-binding referendum to the voters of the town of Newton at the next general election.”

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Petition committee members Ludmilla Mecaj and Suzanne Kimble were allowed to speak before the ordinance was adopted so that the council might gauge whether or not the petitioners were going to withdraw their petition based on the introduction of Ordinance 2018-12, after they had rejected the petition itself.

Mecaj and Kimble disagreed with the specific language within the ordinance. The two objected to “non-binding,” preferring to be “binding.”  

According to the town officials, the language as proposed is required by statute; if a municipality introduces a referendum ordinance it legally cannot be a binding one.

This appeared to be a major sticking point for Mecaj and Kimble who are two of the five originators of the petition. Without the wording of “binding” within the ordinance, the two agreed that they would not be withdrawing the petition.

“It wouldn’t be fair to go back and tell all those that signed the petition that we compromised with a non-binding ordinance,” Kimble said.

The two also had a problem with the wording of the interpretive statement as it pertained to political parties. Faulkner Act town councils are to be non-partisan.

Mecaj asked the council members to use a statement closer to the one in the petition, “the candidates running for Town Council will not have party affiliation next to their name” to be included.

Council members, the town manager and town attorney agreed that the petitioners’ wording on  political parties and council member candidates could be added to Ordinance 2018-12.

With that compromise, the council members, “in good faith” introduced Ordinance 2018-12 with minor revisions, in hopes of a second reading and public portion at the June 11 meeting.

The words good faith were used throughout the conversation.  They were referring to the idea that now that the petition has been made moot by Ordinance 2018-12, the decision to have a special election lies in the hands of the petitioners.  Under the Faulkner Act the petition committee members have 10 days to decide to withdraw their petition or let it stand. If they do not withdraw, they will cause a special election in August.

It was the council’s intent, “in good faith” as Helen LeFois, Daniel Flynn and town manager Thomas S. Russo Jr. kept saying, that by compromising and proposing this new ordinance, it would eliminate the need to hold a special election.

Other members of the public spoke about majority and how the petition was interpreted to them when asked to sign.

Councilman elect Jason Schlaffer thanked the council “for their time and effort put in to try and compromise with the petitioners,” as he is one of the ones who signed the petition. He agreed that the “eight percent of people who signed the petition was not even close to a majority of the voters in the town,” so the council offering to negotiate and compromise with the petitioners was very “fair”.

The deadline to withdraw the petition is June 9.  Four of the five members of the petition committee have to submit their withdrawal in writing, to the Clerk’s office, or by law, the question will go to a special election. Since June 9 is a Saturday this year, the town attorney said the submission, if chosen to be done, would need to be in the Town of Newton Clerk’s office by 8:30 a.m. on Monday, June 11, with a signed date of June 9.

The second reading and public portion of Ordinance 2018-12 will be put on the Newton Town Council’s June 11 meeting agenda. 

The ordinance in it’s entirety:

“WHEREAS, the Town of Newton has a non-partisan Council-Manager form of government, which holds regular Municipal elections on the second Tuesday of May, per N.J.S.A 40:69A-83.1;

WHEREAS, Newton may, by ordinance choose to hold regular municipal elections on the day of the General election, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, per N.J.S.A 40:45-7.1; and

WHEREAS, a Committee of Petitioners, Dr. Ludmilla G Mecaj, Suzanne M Kimble, William R. Kimble, Barbara J. Morris, and Neil L. Morris, submitted an initiative petition to the Town of Newton Clerk of April 18, 2018, proposing an ordinance to move the Municipal election from May to November; and

WHEREAS, the Town Council desires to propose to the voters, at the next General Election, on November 6, 2018, the question as to whether they support moving the Town Municipal elections from May to November;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT ORDAINED, by the Town council of the Town of Newton, as follows:

  1. The Newton Town Council does hereby request the following referendum be forwarded to the Sussex County Clerk for inclusion on the next general election ballot:

Shall the Town of Newton’s regular municipal elections be moved from May, and instead be held on the day of the General election in November?

Interpretative Statement:

Newton is a non-partisan Faulkner Act Municipality, which has held elections in May to maintain the non-partisan nature of municipal elections and government.

The proposed ordinance would move Municipal elections from May to the general elections in November. The General elections necessarily include political party identification of candidates running for office other than Newton Town Council member.

The May municipal elections cost approximately $16,000.00 every two years, at a cost of approximately $5.00 per Town household every two years. Once a municipality changes the date of the regular Municipal election to the day of the general election in November, it shall not be permitted to change the day of the election back to the second Tuesday in May until at least 10 years have passed since adoption of the ordinance changing the municipal election to the day of the general election.

A “Yes” vote on this question will mean the voters desire the municipal election be moved from May to November, at the same time as the general elections.”

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