NEWTON, NJ – Four candidates for the Town of Newton Council have the same idea; move the election for council members to the November general elections.  Candidates Matt Dickson and Jason Schlaffer and Ludmilla Mecaj and Wayne Levante just do not agree on how to make that happen.

As a Faulkner Act town, Newton originally established their non-partisan elections to be held separately from national and state elections.  Any effort to change that must adhere to a strict timeline, spelled out in the Faulkner Act. 

The simplest way to move the date is for the council members to vote to have it moved.  Currently it appears three members, Deputy Mayor Kevin Elvidge, Councilwoman Sandra Diglio and Councilman Daniel Flynn are against the move.

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At the council meeting on Monday night Flynn lashed out at the mayor when Levante said he supported moving it.

“I’ve asked you multiple times to bring it up but you haven’t,” Flynn said.

Flynn opposes Levante’s efforts to move the election. “His motive now is to change it to November as step one, ultimately changing the form of government to one with a stronger mayor,” Flynn said in an interview.  “Neither of which I am in favor of.”

Mecaj has proposed a petition campaign to make the change.  This is supported by Levante. 

Petitions are a way for registered voters to force an issue to be dealt, with under the Faulkner Act.  The act has specific timelines and requirements for this process.

Per the Faulkner Act, a committee of petitioners, with at least five members, must get signatures of registered voters. 

In the last General Assembly election, Newton had 1,871 votes cast, according to Municipal Clerk Lorraine Read. It is important to know that 15 percent of that number is 281, and 10 percent is 187.  Those numbers affect the process, as will be explained.

Whether the petition will be considered at a general or regular municipal election or at a special election depends on two things; the number of signatures on the petition and deadlines established by the Faulkner Act for the final withdrawal of the petition, according to Read. 

After signatures are collected, the petition committee submits them to the municipal clerk.  The clerk must certify the petition and signatures within 20 days of receipt.  If the petition is found to be deficient, needing additional signatures or other corrections, the clerk notifies at least two of the members of the petition committee, according to the Faulkner Act, Read said.

The petition committee has 10 days to make the corrections and resubmit to the clerk. The clerk then has five days to review. 

If it remains deficient the petition committee is notified and there is no further action.  If the clerk certifies the petition it is then passed on to the town council, according to Read, citing N.J.S.A. 40:69A-184, et seq.

The town council has 20 days to take action on an ordinance.  In this case the ordinance would be to move the election of council members to coincide with the general election in November.

If the council approves the ordinance, the date is moved and no further action is required.

If the council fails to take action or fails to approve the ordinance there are three options: 

  • The petition committee could withdraw the petition within 10 days (of the expiration of the council’s 20 days or their no vote).  This requires four of the five petition committee members’ signatures.
  • If the petition is not withdrawn and has 281 or more signatures the question goes to a vote at a general, municipal or special election.
  • If the petition is not withdrawn and has between 187 and 250 signatures it goes to a vote at the next general or municipal election.

But it is not that simple according to some of the candidates. The contention between Levante and Mecaj and Dickson and Schlaffer is whether or not a petition would force a costly special election.  Read said a special election would cost approximately $18,000.

If there are at least 281 signatures but a general or municipal election is not scheduled between 40 and 90 days after the date the petition could have been withdrawn, the town council is required to provide a special election.  The special election must be held between 40 and 60 days from the withdrawal date. 

The dates relevant to Newton in this case is the general election scheduled for November 6, 2018. August 8 is 90 prior.  To get the question on the November ballot, the withdrawal date must be after August 8, if the petition has 281 signatures.  

In turn that means, the council must get the petition by July 9. They have to take action by July 29 or 20 days.  If rejected by council, the petition committee has 10 days to withdraw, which August 8.

If there are 187 signatures, then there is no option for a special election.  The question must be placed on the ballot of the next general or municipal election, as long as it is 40 days after the last day to withdraw the petition. 

Levante said the process is designed to protect the petitioners.  He said after the council gets the petition from the municipal clerk “negotiating begins, like with a contract.”  

Levante said a special election would not be needed because the petition has a date for the election included in the language.  The date is November 6, the general election.  Levante believes that would eliminate the need for a special election.  There does not appear to be language in the Faulkner act to support this view. To avoid a special election the petition need only have fewer than 281 signatures.  

Elvidge said he did not want to move the election because he wanted the council elections to remain non-partisan.

The Newton Board of Education elections were moved to November and they have remained non-partisan a resident in the audience told TAPinto.

It appears the four candidates all want the same thing; to move the town council elections to the November elections.  The way to get there could be as easy as a council vote.  It could be more difficult through the petition process, but still possible.  

The Town of Newton Council elections will be held on May 8.  A field of seven candidates will be on the ballot this year:

  • Matthew Dickson,
  • Sandra Diglio,
  • Kevin Elvidge,
  • Wayne Levante,
  • Alex Majewski, 
  • Ludmilla Mecaj and
  • Jason Schlaffer.