Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Suburbanite: Englewood Cliffs official files complaint against Mayor Parisi, Jr. and borough

Englewood Cliffs official files complaint against Mayor Parisi, Jr. and borough

Thursday, March 8, 2012
Northern Valley Suburbanite

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS — Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Russell Porrino filed a civil complaint with the Bergen County Superior Court against the Borough of Englewood Cliffs and Mayor Joseph Parisi, Jr. to void all of the actions taken by the governing body at the Jan. 7 reorganization meeting, because Parisi failed to open the meeting for public comment.
In addition to asking for the voiding of all actions taken by the governing body at the Jan. 7 reorganization meeting, Porrino wants it declared that Parisi and the Borough of Englewood Cliffs violated the Open Public Meetings Act, an issuance of injunctive order to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Open Public Meetings Act, an order to make sure Parisi and the governing body do not conduct public meetings without a public session and the fining of Parisi if he knowingly violated the Open Public Meetings Act.
One of the actions taken at this meeting was the council approving the first reading of an ordinance calling for dissolving the Zoning Board of Adjustment and shifting its powers to the Planning Board, in a 5-1 party-line vote.
Parisi instructed Borough Attorney Carter Corriston to draft this ordinance before he was sworn in as the borough attorney and that this ordinance was not listed on the meeting agenda.
Municipal governing bodies are required by law to set aside a portion of every meeting for public comment. At this time, the public has the opportunity to comment on issues or concerns or ask questions.
At the Feb. 8 mayor and council meeting, Borough Attorney Carter Corriston said Parisi was in violation of the law by not opening the meeting for public comment, but believes it was an oversight.
Councilwoman Carrol McMorrow asked Corriston to look into this matter at the Jan. 18 mayor and council meeting.
"I believe it was an inadvertence," said Corriston. "An innocent inadvertence."
Parisi apologized for not opening for public comment at the reorganization meeting and said it would not happen again.
"As for the reorganization meeting and not opening to the public, I as I said, I admit I should have requested the council to open the meeting to the public, but in fact none of the council members requested to open the meeting," said Parisi. He added that he is going to ask the council to withdraw the motion to hear the ordinance regarding dissolving the board at the next council meeting. Instead, he is going to ask the council to reintroduce an ordinance, however, the public will not be able to comment on it until the next scheduled meeting.
Porrino does not see the apology as an adequate solution.
"I cannot in good conscience remain silent and witness the dissolving of our independent Board of Adjustment while Mayor Parisi violates the Open Public Meetings Act in the process," said Porrino. "There must be consequences to stifling the rights of the public to speak at a public meeting and the residents of Englewood Cliffs deserve to know the details of what is happening behind the scenes."
Porrino said Parisi knowingly adjourned the reorganization meeting without opening for public comment and that the public was restrained from speaking at the meeting "as to stifle any negative comments from the public regarding the proposed dissolving of the Board of Adjustment."
Porrino also alleged that Parisi violated the Municipal Land Use Law by swearing in Steve Duffy and Vincent Surace as alternate members of the Planning Board on Jan. 12. Both Duffy and Surace were members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and did not submit resignations to the Board of Adjustment.
"This lawsuit is frivolous and a political ploy because the consequences would be to redo what was done and I pay the one hundred dollar fine, which I'm willing to do," said Parisi.
However Porrino said there is nothing political about this lawsuit. "What it is all about, is an elected official violating the law and expecting no resident to speak out," said Porrino.

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