PARAMUS, N.J. — A candidate for police officer is suing the borough and its three Republican council members after the alleged unlawful dismissal of his candidacy due to his relation to a member of the governing body.
Vincent LaBarbiera, 22, the son of Mayor Richard LaBarbiera, a Democrat, informed the council of his intention to sue in an April 1 letter from his attorney on the heels of a resolution put forth by Republican Councilman Christopher DiPiazza at a March 27 meeting that excluded LaBarbiera from a list of nine police officers for hire.
The Republicans assert LaBarbiera should not be considered for the position given his relationship to the mayor. The resolution was voted down by the Democrats that Friday in a 3-3 vote, with the Republicans in favor. The Republicans argue that the Democrats’ no-vote on the nine police officers politicized its passage and jeopardized the safety of the borough amidst the coronavirus crisis.
In a press release circulated by the Republicans following the meeting, DiPiazza denounced the Democrats’ decision as a “shameful act” that “placed Paramus with depleted public safety resources during a pandemic.”
“This is truly a new low for Democrats in Paramus,” said DiPiazza, “to block the hiring of nine needed police officers in a time of emergency unless Republicans agreed to hire a relative of an elected official is a disgrace.”
Late last month, the Democrats — MariaElena Bellinger, Holly Tedesco-Santos and Pat Verile — said they would not pass the resolution without LaBarbiera on the list provided his credentials, which they aver make him a qualified candidate.
Currently, Vincent LaBarbiera serves as both a special police officer and a volunteer firefighter in Paramus, in addition to working for the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office.
In the Republicans’ press release, Councilwoman Jeanne Weber stated her position against nepotism throughout her six-year tenure on the council, but that the issue took a backseat to the hiring of the officers given the current apex of the coronavirus outbreak.
While there is currently no policy on nepotism on the books in Paramus, a practice defined as those in power giving jobs to relatives or friends, the Republicans contend that Vincent LaBarbiera should not be considered for the role because he is the mayor’s son.
"I have been against nepotism my entire time on the council,” stated Weber. “This is a separate issue to debate, but for now we need to hire the nine officers as our force responds to the COVID-19 outbreak."
“We are not going to let the Mayor’s son become a cop,” said DiPiazza at the meeting.
Records show that LaBarbiera was appointed as a Class 1 special police officer at a salary of $12 per hour by the borough council in the summer of 2016.
In the letter to the borough from LaBarbiera’s attorney, Matthew Priore, LaBarbiera was recommended for the position of police officer by Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenburg, the Police Command Structure, and a bi-partisan Police Committee, and ranked No. 9 on a shortlist of 10 candidates amid an application pool that exceeded 100.
The Democrats counter that Chapter 99 of the Paramus Code, Section 3, provides that “appointments of personnel shall be made on the basis of qualifications without regard to race, religion, sex, national origin or personal, family or political affiliation.”
Further, it was the advice of the Borough Attorney to abide by the Borough Code when making good faith decisions on town laws.
“The failure to hire Mr. LaBarbiera while attempting to hire a candidate who ranked below Mr. LaBarbiera is a violation of Mr. LaBarbiera’s rights without due process of law and a violation of his right to equal protection,” stated Priore in the letter.
Vincent LaBarbiera is now moving forward with legal action against the borough and Republican Council Members DiPiazza, Joseph Vartolone, and Jeanne Weber, all of whom he deems liable for punitive damages and legal fees and costs.
Priore afforded the Republican council members an opportunity to “rectify their mistake” at the April 7 meeting by voting in favor of all 10 officers in order to drop the suit, but the vote was once again split along political parties and did not move forward.