NEWTON, NJ—The committee of residents who submitted a petition in April requesting to move the municipal election from May until November, are forcing a special election to decide the question. They have declined the proposed ordinance to have the question on the November ballot as discussed at the last town council meetings.
On May 30, the Newton Town Council voted to reject the petition and offered instead a draft ordinance 2018-12, in the hope that the petitioners would withdraw their petition and eliminate the need for a costly special election. According to the town clerk the election would cost taxpayers an estimated $19,000.
After much discussion on the language within the ordinance two of the five petition committee members Ludmilla Mecaj and Suzanne Kimble, said they would bring the information back to the other committee members to discuss.
As of 8:30 a.m. on Monday, June 11, the petitioners had not submitted a request to withdraw their petition causing the council members to add the special election to the agenda for the meeting that night.
At the June 11 meeting, Mecaj read a prepared statement during the first public comment portion of the meeting:
“Per town record: we have not withdrawn our petition to move the election to November. Therefore your Ordinance number 2018-12should never have been introduced, because it is in conflict with our petition already introduced on April 18, 2018.”
“We have not given permission to anyone to change our petition in any way. Ms. Leo: the same statement applies to you. You have no authority over our petition. To refresh your memory, the council rejected our position, but could not legally reject our petition. Therefore this is a legal matter that has moved to the town clerk. Town Clerk, Mrs. Read. You have no authority to change our petition without asking for a judge’s permission. Further we believe there is an ethical conflict for you to use the legal services of Laddey, Clark and Ryan. They represent our opponent and the Town Clerk is supposed to remain independent and unbiased.”
Others residents including Anwar Qarmout and Melissa Costello, signers of the petition agreed and reiterated what Mecaj said.
Qarmout said, “The special election doesn’t have anything to do with the petition submitted,” while Costello reiterated that the clerk should be acting independently and is not allowed to change the petition.
The Faukner Act, however, determines the protocol for handling petitions, such as the one currently in front of the council. The Faukner Act requires the matter to be put in front of voters in a special election because of the number of people who signed the petition. The petition, therefore, is causing the special election.
Many of the council members commented after Ordinance 2018-12 was rejected during the June 11 council meeting.
Daniel Flynn said, “More legal advice should have been sought by the petitioners when the petition was created.”
Kevin Elvidge said, “Because of the timing when the petition was submitted it created a situation. The council offered a solution to it so that there would not have to be a special election, but it wasn’t accepted because the word ‘non-binding’ was used.”
Mayor Wayne Levante said “the petition was written in a savvy manner and should have either been deemed illegal or invalid, but instead it was rejected.” Levante was in favor of the petition during his campaigning for re-election, along with Mecaj who was also running for a seat on the council.
Mecaj said the petitioners “didn’t ask for a special election, that the council is forcing it.”
Repeating a statement she has made at the two previous meetings, Helen LeFois said, “The steps were all laid out, no one amended the petition, the ordinance was simply a compromise so that a special election would not be needed. The unintended consequence, due to timing and number of signatures, is a special election.”
Since the petitioners have not withdrawn their petition after the council rejected it, with no election on the calendar within the deadline prescribed by the Faulkner Act and having collected signatures equaling 15 percent of the voters in the previous election, the law mandates a special election to be held between 40 and 60 days from when the council rejected the petition.
If the petition had between 10 and 15 percent of voters’ signatures, the question could have been put on the ballot at the next November general election.
Councilwoman Sandra Diglio raised the possibility of the petitioners withdrawing and resubmitting around August 9, within the 90 day window that would not require a special election, but petitioners stood strong and kept their petition in play.
According to Read a date has been set for the special election; Tuesday July 31. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. and the polling places for the six districts include the following:
- DISTRICT 1 - Newton Firehouse #1, 22 Mill Street
- DISTRICT 2 - Newton Firehouse #1, 22 Mill Street
- DISTRICT 3 – Newton Municipal Building, 39 Trinity Street
- DISTRICT 4 - First Aid & Rescue Squad Bldg, 68 Sussex Street
- DISTRICT 5 – Newton Municipal Building, 39 Trinity St.
- DISTRICT 6 - First United Methodist Church, 111 Ryerson Ave.
Newton residents will have a say as to whether or not they want the municipal election to be moved from May to November, but it is going to cost them.