CEDAR GROVE, NJ – Cedar Grove Mayor Joseph Chiusolo called for the resignation of Councilman Harry Kumburis via Facebook following a Town Council staff meeting on Monday night.
Chiusolo stated on his personal Facebook page, “As elected officials it’s imperative that we not only uphold the oath of office we are sworn to, but we are ethical and completely transparent in representing the people who elect us. Sadly, when you find out that a council member acts unethical and is representing developers who are hurting our town, it’s time for the council member to resign! Disgusting actions such as this hurt our community. Councilman Kumburis has misled the people of Cedar Grove by advocating the environment, yet being agent 55 of the Essex County Deer Cull, then being against development yet meeting with a developer who is hurting our town by constructing 204 units of housing. Time to resign and find someone to truly FIGHT for the PEOPLE of our town!”
Chiusolo reported at the staff meeting that he had been informed that Kumburis had recently met at a diner with attorney Victor Herlinksy, who represents Highview Homes, a company that recently applied to the Zoning Board for permission to build 204 apartment units on Cliffside Drive. Chiusolo voiced his concerns that this meeting violated the rules governing the Town Council and its members and possibly prejudiced the council for future dealings with Highview Homes.
“We have an obligation to the residents to uphold the rules as well as the constitution. I’m not worried about the constitution – I’m worried about the rules,” Chiusolo said. “During K. Hovnanian every meeting change had to be approved by each member of the council. We need to be able to communicate and we only act as a body with the approval of the body.”
“If a developer is calling us or a police officer is calling us or someone that is outside of our purview of responsibility is contacting us we really need to direct it to the town manager immediately,” Chiusolo continued. “That’s the only way we are going to be able to protect the integrity of the Council as well as the integrity of what we’re charged to do.”
Kumburis said that while he did have a conversation with Herlinksy with regard to the property and other properties in the township, it was done before Highview Homes submitted its application for the project. He said he met Herlinksy at a political function. He also said he did not know Herlinsky represented Highview Homes at the time of the conversation.
“The only conversation I ever had pertaining to that piece of property was with regard to my feelings on that property and other properties in the town and I told him I am against any type of cluster housing in town,” Kumburis stated. “That is the only thing that I ever discussed pertaining to the Hilltop, the Cedar Grove Garden Center and other properties. I feel we are in a single-family residential town and I believe the conversation was well before any application came into play.”
Chiusolo asked Township Attorney Joshua Zielinski to look into the matter further. Zielinski noted that there is a question as to whether or not Herlinsky should have made it known to Kumburis that he represented the applicant when they were having the conversation.
Councilman Peter Tanella suggested that Kumburis should have acted with more caution, saying the appropriate response when asked about development in town should be “I don’t have an opinion or I can’t comment.”
When asked by Chiusolo if he could clarify the role of the town council in such matters Zielinksi said “I think to keep it simple and straight forward, the governing body acts as a body. That is not any one person is their own council and all council members should not be speaking on official business unless they have the approval to act.”
“When I ran for office in Cedar Grove, I investigated the duties of a councilman. We are a board of directors really when you think of it,” Chiusolo added. “We sit here and we approve the budget and we have areas of responsibility. Everything is done in a majority way. If you want to move something, it needs to be done with three affirmative votes.“
Kumburis reiterated that he didn’t feel the conversation with Herlinsky had prejudiced the council in any way because it happened before any application came before the Zoning Board, but noted he would recuse himself from any future voting regarding Highview Homes. Tanella noted that he also knows Herlinsky, but knowing someone is not a reason to recuse oneself from a vote.
The mayor said that he was told that Kumburis was instructed by an elected state official to meet with Herlinksy. He noted that the Council had already had numerous conversations on the need to avoid commenting on applications before the Zoning Board such as the St. Mark’s Coptic Church and the Soccer Dome because once those applications are approved they come before the Town Council and it is the council’s job to hear residents concerns and act accordingly without being prejudiced.
“If it is true (that Kumburis had an inappropriate discussion with Herlinsky) we now have to have the attorney find out if there was any violation that took place and if there is one how is that going to play a role with the governing body possibly getting involved in this,” Chiusolo said. “ You may be friends with him (Herlinsky) and that’s fine but if there was any discussion with him about the development or the amount of homes or how it was going to be configured that information has to be publicly stated so our attorney can react to it if this application comes before us. I don’t want to be prejudiced or see the township involved in lawsuit.”
Chiusolo said at this point "the cover up is worse than the crime" saying that by not being honest about his conversation with Herlinsky, Kumburis has put the township at legal risk and the taxpayers of Cedar Grove will be the ones to pay for that.
Regarding his call for Kumburis' resignation, Chiusolo stated that Kumburis has repeatedly violated the rules of the council by acting rogue and in turn weakened the integrity of the governing body. Chiusolo further stated that by publicly stating he is against cluster housing in Cedar Grove, Kumburis has now prejudiced himself and the town council in any future negotiations on any development that comes before the town council.
“His actions have demeaned the meaning of being a council member in Cedar Grove and weakened the credibility of our Town Council,” Chiusolo said. “He has a chronic problem with following the rules and understanding how we govern. He needs to step down and realize this is not for him.”