PATERSON, NJ - There were 63 items on the City Council’s Workshop Agenda, but none of them received as much attention as the as the debate brewing between Councilman Ken Morris and the assistant corporation counsel.
Councilman Ken Morris and Assistant Corporation Counsel Dawn Blakely Harper spent more than 20 minutes discussing the legal standing of decisions made during last week’s meeting and the council’s choice to proceed with the current meeting without the previous one being adjourned. The debate not only left attendees confused, but caused council members to turn against one another.
Last week, the city council meeting ran more than five hours long, ending after midnight. The meeting was never officially adjourned, as confirmed by both the council and the assistant corporation counsel.
While the council was discussing a resolution for an appropriation of emergency funds, Councilman Ken Morris called attention to the fact that last week’s meeting was never adjourned and questioned Harper on the matter.
“So if that meeting wasn’t officially adjourned, how do you start this one?” asked Morris.
Morris requested Harper to provide an opinion on if the council can proceed with the current meeting without the previous one being closed. When Harper stated that she would research the answer, Morris asked for a quicker response.
“I think we’re going to need an opinion soon if we’re going to continue with his meeting,” said Morris.
Harper said last week’s meeting could not be officially adjourned because Morris, along with Councilman Rigo Rodriguez “walked out,” leaving the council without a quorum.
“This is why it’s important for our council members to attend meetings, said Anthony Davis, council president, during the meeting.
Davis has previously voiced his frustration with councilmembers not attending meetings or leaving early.
“It’s a shame we had to waste 20 minutes over nonsense,” said Davis.
Both Rodriguez and Morris argued that there was no official meeting to “walk out” of because meeting guidelines say official business cannot be conducted after midnight.
“I’m not going to sit here and render decisions or opinions that have no bearings moving forward,” said Morris. “It’s as simple as that.”
Second Ward Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, who is normally one of the quieter council members, became involved the debate. He jokingly insinuated that there should be consequences to the council members actions.
“Can you also find out if there is any punishment for leaving your colleague behind?” asked Akhtaruzzaman, to the corporation counsel.
Councilman-At-Large Rigo Rodriguez challenged his question.
“Councilman, you want to talk about punishment?” asked Rodriguez. “You don’t want me against you, alright?”
Rodriguez says the council has been previously advised not to proceed to other items or meetings without officially adjourning a session.
Residents were frustrated that the council deviated from items on the agenda to pursue unrelated issues.
“I need a drink,” said a Paterson resident. “This is embarrassing.”
The resident attended the council meeting to voice her concerns over the city’s plan to buy private properties. She lives close to the Passaic River and her home gets flooded during heavy storms and hurricane season, causing her insurance to frequently increase. Her intention was to be heard by the business administrator, but first she had watch as councilmembers took personal shots at one another.
It’s not the first time Patersonians have complained about the way the council handles matters during meetings. Last week, mayoral hopeful Maria Teresa Feliciano said the meetings were "sad."
“If this wasn’t so serious, it would be funny,” said Feliciano, last week. “You’d think it were a comedy.”
Council President Anthony Davis says everything could have been avoided had the body had sufficient members.
“Councilman Morris and Councilman Rodriguez should’ve stayed,” said Davis. We would have concluded the previous meeting and would not have this argument.”