Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Record: Mayor's executive order stirs conflict in Englewood Cliffs

January 18, 2015, 7:52 PM Last updated: Tuesday, January 20, 2015, 8:41 AM
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS – A month after a community activist and frequent filer of requests under the Open Public Records Act was appointed to the Borough Council, the mayor issued an executive order requiring that all council members’ requests for information from borough employees go through him.

“It’s just the way of communication that should be done,” Mayor Joseph Parisi Jr. said at a council meeting Wednesday, adding, “It’s not a gag order.”

But borough Republicans cried foul, questioning whether Parisi had the legal authority to control the council’s communications and alleging that the order was targeted at Lauren Eastwood, who was appointed to the council last month, after Ramon Ferro resigned.

Eastwood is a Republican. Parisi is a Democrat.

Parisi denied the accusation.

“There is no connection,” Parisi said. The order is “preventive,” he said, adding, “It’s not meant for any individual.” The order applies only to requests made by council members in relation to their official duties, Parisi said. In an email, Eastwood said she was disappointed in Parisi’s actions.

The borough GOP chairwoman, former Councilwoman Carrol McMorrow, echoed those sentiments: “I am disappointed to see that the mayor took such an action that clearly will be impeding the flow of information,” she said. “Being faced with a difficult budget year, all council people should have the ability to hold government accountable and scrutinize how taxpayer dollars are spent.”

Parisi said his order, which was issued Wednesday, came after he said he observed some “hiccups” in how the council communicated with borough employees – for example, multiple requests being made for the same information. The order is also a way to control costs, as most of the borough’s professional employees charge for their time, Parisi said.

“All of this is so we communicate better. … I’m trying to free up not only Lisette, but all of the professionals,” Parisi said, referring to the borough clerk and administrator, Lisette Duffy.

He pledged to respond to council requests in a “very timely” manner.

Parisi’s order calls for all requests for information to be directed to him for approval and forwarding to the appropriate departments and/or professionals, except in emergency situations. It also includes provisions that:

— Communication between department heads and council committees should only be performed by committee heads.

— Council members cannot intervene with municipal employees, volunteers and professionals unless they receive mayoral approval.

— All official borough communications to the public and media must be approved by Parisi.

Borough Attorney E. Carter Corriston Sr. said council members cannot be legally sanctioned if they violate the order. Parisi said that if someone disregards the directive, he might first address the action with them privately. If it continues, he said, he would bring the matter to the council.

Though noting he did not need their approval, Parisi called for a vote of confidence from the council Wednesday.

The three Democrats – Joseph Favaro, Gloria Oh and Ed Aversa – all voted in favor of the order. Eastwood voted against it. Her fellow Republican, Zhi Liang, voted that he favored the order “in general,” though he also called it “very strict” and voiced concern over some of the language.

Nunzio Consalvo, also a Republican, attended the meeting via telephone but had hung up by the time Parisi called for the vote.

The Borough Council adopted a similar resolution in 2012, when McMorrow was on the council. Parisi said his executive order overrides this resolution.

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