Republicans Respond to Councilman-Elect Peluso's Call for Their Resignation
Both Ed Trawinski and Jeanne Baratta said Kurt Peluso was incorrect to label them as dual office holders.
Ed. Note: On Nov. 16, the Record picked up on this story. Here's what they had to say.
On Tuesday night, shortly after learning he had won a seat on the Fair Lawn Borough Council, Kurt Peluso (D) called for Republican council members Ed Trawinski and Jeanne Baratta to resign their council seats because they also hold county jobs.
“For me, that’s a conflict of interest,” Peluso said. “I wish they [would have stepped down] before the election and allowed five of the seven candidates to serve. I thought that would have been a great way to end this dual office holding. But they didn’t go that route, they want to hold on to both positions and I hope eventually they’ll change their mind.”
Peluso added that despite his preference for their resignation, he had every intention of working with his soon-to-be Republican counterparts because it was “what was best for Fair Lawn.”
Since Peluso made his comments Tuesday night, both Councilwoman Baratta and Councilman Trawinski have written statements rebutting his claims that their county jobs constitute “dual office holding.”
In Barrata’s statement, released Wednesday, she said that Peluso was incorrect to call her a dual office holder because a dual office holder, she explained, is someone who holds two elected positions. In addition to her position on the Fair Lawn council, Baratta is the Chief of Staff for County Executive Kathleen Donovan. As Chief of Staff, Baratta acts as a spokeswoman for the administration but does not have a say on policy decisions.
She said she views her position on council as one of a town volunteer.
“In my six years as a Fair Lawn Council Member, I have never taken the salary, healthcare and I am not entitled to any retirement benefits,” Baratta said, adding that she would not relinquish her seat. “The people of Fair Lawn elected me to a four-year term and I intend to fulfill my commitment to the people that elected me; to do otherwise would be disingenuous.”
Trawinski also said he had no intention of resigning from council.
“I will fulfill the promise I made to the people of Fair Lawn when I was re-elected two years ago,” said Trawinski, who last year accepted the position of Bergen County administrator. “I will serve my entire term. The only change is that since accepting employment with Bergen County I voluntarily no longer receive my salary as a Fair Lawn councilmember.”
In Trawinski’s response to Peluso, he reiterated that the councilman-elect was mistaken for calling him a dual-office holder.
“I hold one elected office as a Councilmember in Fair Lawn,” Trawinski said Thursday. “My job as Bergen County Administrator is just that - a job. It is not an elected position.”
To illustrate their points, both Baratta and Trawinski provided examples of instances where Fair Lawn councilmembers held jobs with other policy-making bodies that were not considered to be in conflict of interest.
“In similar circumstances in 1996,” Trawinski said in his statement, “then-Borough Attorney Richard Lustgarten advised the Borough Council when then-sitting Mayor Joseph Tedeschi decided he wanted to accept employment from the Fair Lawn School Board as its Community School Manager that continuing to hold his elected office as a Fair Lawn councilmember was not a conflict of interest and did not prevent him from working for the Fair Lawn School Board as its Community School Manager."
Trawinski added that Deputy Mayor Steve Weinstein, Fair Lawn Planning Board Chairman Peter Kortright and former Councilman Alan Caan also have performed work for the county.
“Weinstein is the accountant (albeit not as an employee) for the Bergen County Economic Development Corporation which is part of Bergen County government...Kortright works for Bergen County as a planner. Former Councilman Alan Caan worked for Bergen County while serving as a Fair Lawn councilmember," Trawinski said. "None of these people have ever been deemed to be in a conflict of interest.”
Dual office holding, Trawinski said, “is perhaps best illustrated by State Senator Paul Sarlo who holds two elected offices - one as a state senator, to which he was just re-elected, and another as the sitting Mayor of Wood-Ridge."
Former Fair Lawn Mayor David Ganz, Baratta said, was also an example of a true dual officer holder because he served as both mayor and a Bergen County Freeholder simultaneously.
Despite their disagreement over Peluso's characterization of their positions, both Republican councilmembers congratulated the councilman-elect on his victory and said they would look forward to working with him going forward.
“I know that our record of working, while in the minority, for the last six years, with Lisa, Joe, and Steve (and before them Marty and Owen) demonstrates our commitment to working with all our colleagues on the Council,” Trawinski said in his statement. “A commitment that we will continue to fulfill now that we are in the majority for as long we are privileged to serve the people of Fair Lawn as their councilmembers."