CEDAR GROVE, NJ – The Cedar Grove Town Council requested the resignation of Mayor Joseph Chiusolo at its staff meeting Monday after the results of an independent investigation indicated he has repeatedly violated Local Government Ethics Laws, the Faulkner Act and several local ordinances.
The investigation was sparked by an anonymous letter sent to the Town Council in March questioning whether the Mayor’s active involvement in the police department was proper considering his ownership of Turn Out Uniforms, Inc. which provides uniforms and equipment to local law enforcement, fire departments and rescue squads. In addition, the Council had received new information regarding the extent of the mayor’s involvement in police related issues. Throughout the course of the investigation, 28 people were interviewed including Chiusolo, Deputy Mayor Peter Tanella, Councilmen Michael Maffucci, E. Romeo Longo and Harry Kumburis, the Township Manager Thomas Tucci, the Township Attorney Joshua Zielinski, the Chief of Police Richard Vanderstreet and 20 police officers.
According to the report, the investigator concluded that Chiusolo had a conflict of interest on all matters regarding the Police Department, Fire Department and Rescue Squad due to his ownership of Turn Out Uniforms Inc. The report findings state his failure to recuse himself when these matters were voted on and discussed renders numerous Council decisions voidable as a matter of law and subjects Cedar Grove to immeasurable liability.
“In effect, each time the Mayor voted to approve the Annual Budget, he used his position as Councilman to approve and authorize funds that could and would be used to purchase uniforms and equipment at Turn Out, undoubtedly directly benefiting his business,” the report stated.
In addition, the report found that Chiusolo violated the Faulkner Act by acting in an official capacity on matters in which he had a conflict of interest, by improperly communicating with police officers regarding police business and by boasting of his influence over the Township Manager in hiring, firing and offering promotions. Due to the council-manager form of government in Cedar Grove, the Mayor and Council are specifically prohibited from having any direct communication with employees regarding their administrative duties. According to the report, Chiusolo initiated communication in the past with officers who have recently been promoted or who have influence within the police department or the PBA, including calls and texts from his personal cell phone. Chiusolo repeatedly denied having these conversations in the report. Other improprieties included allowing “charge accounts” for certain officers and providing discounts of up to 20% to certain officers.
“A noticeable pattern emerged from the information gathered from the Police Department in this investigation as to the amount of the discount offered by Turn Out, to whom the discount was offered and when the discount was offered. Larger discounts are typically offered by Turn Out to Cedar Grove police officers recently promoted to higher rank, which is typically evident by the items purchased or the requested embroidery, and to those police officers who are otherwise in high positions within the Department,” the report stated.
The report further stated that not only has Chiusolo voted on uniform stipends, but he has also been involved in PBA contract negotiations and improperly communicated with police officers during negotiations; for example it was reported he spoke to police officers and volunteered to get the Council to agree to increased health benefits in exchange for the PBA dropping a request for longevity. In addition, the report found that the Mayor makes regular monetary contributions to the PBA and offers his services at all PBA-sponsored events for the Cedar Grove Police Department.
“I was shocked and saddened to learn about the actions of the Mayor. The investigator’s report,which is very thorough and detailed, reveals that the Mayor has violated numerous state statues and local ordinances on many occasions throughout his tenure on the Council. Such actions have cast a dark cloud over the governing body,” said Councilman Tanella in a written statement. “These violations of the law are severe. Thus, the governing body is very concerned about how such violations have exposed the Council to potential legal liability. The governing body is in damage control now and must act swiftly in order to mitigate such exposure in order to protect the Township from further exposure to legal liability and to restore the integrity of the Council.”
Tanella further stated that for these reasons, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution at Monday night’s meeting requesting the immediate resignation of the Mayor. In the event the Mayor refuses to voluntarily resign from the council, the resolution also provides that the governing body will hold a special public meeting on Friday, June 24 at 4:30 pm in order to adopt all of the investigator’s recommendations along with any other recommendations the governing body deems appropriate, including, but not limited to, passing a subsequent resolution seeking the mayor’s immediate resignation from the Council.
“It goes without saying that this is a very sad day for Cedar Grove,” Tanella added.
TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove reached out to Chiusolo for a statement, but has not received a response at this writing.