Democratic Council Members Call for Baratta, Trawinski to Resign
Dems made the call for resignation after the Republican members of borough council voted to replace longtime auditor Steve Wielkotz.
Updated at 6:05 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2
Democratic council members Lisa Swain and Kurt Peluso called Wednesday for the resignation of Mayor Jeanne Baratta and Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski, after both voted Tuesday to replace longtime borough auditor Steve Wielkotz.
Wielkotz, who has served as the borough's auditor for over a decade, has been at the center of a county-level controversy recently in which county executive Kathleen Donovan opposed his re-appointment as county auditor, calling him the "poster child for pay to play," and "a Democrat first and an auditor second" according to a report in the Bergen Record.
Swain and Peluso contend that Baratta and Trawinski's vote to replace Wielkotz as Fair Lawn's auditor was driven by their relationship with Donovan, whom they both report to in their county positions -- Baratta as Donovan's chief of staff, and Trawinski as county administrator.
“Ms. Baratta and Mr. Trawinski’s vote was without question a decision based solely on county politics and they can no longer claim that they are representing the best interests of Fair Lawn residents," Swain said in a statement. "There is no justified reason to replace the town auditor other than they were told to do so by their boss in Hackensack."
Swain called on Donovan to appear before the borough council to explain her role in influencing the votes of Baratta and Trawinski.
Peluso, who called Wielkotz a "great auditor," said in a statement that he was "appalled" and "disgusted" by the lack of integrity displayed by both Baratta and Trawinski.
"They have failed to live up to their responsibilities to serve honorably the people of Fair Lawn," he said. "Instead, county politics is spilling over into Fair Lawn and their vote is being influenced by the person who controls their six-figure taxpayer-funded salaries."
Peluso suggested that Donovan should give Baratta and Trawinski an ultimatum.
“Tell them to resign from the Council immediately or give up their county jobs," he said.
When reached for comment, Baratta said would not resign, adding that she had never supported Wielkotz as auditor during her six years on the council, and that her vote Tuesday night should not have come as a surprise.
"I have never voted for that auditing firm going back to when I was elected in 2005," she said, "and my first council re-org in 2006, when I was just a lowly art teacher working for St Anne’s School, I was extremely vocal in my 'no' vote on that auditing firm...Nothing has changed."
Baratta said Wielkotz' firm had been found to be in violation of the borough's pay-to-play ordinance, but that the prior Democrat-controlled council "didn't think it was a big deal," and allowed Wielkotz to continue as auditor.
Trawinski, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, said prior to his vote Tuesday against Wielkotz' appointment that he had never supported the auditor in the past.
"I’ve never voted for Steve Wielkotz and I do not intend to support Steve Wielkotz this time," Trawinski said. "Steve came to us originally as a major pay-to-play contributor."
Baratta said the Democrats' call for her resign based on her vote demonstrates their lack of familiarity with being in the council minority.
"Mrs. Swain has never been in the minority, she's always been in the majority...All she knows is being able to appoint who she wants to appoint," said Baratta, who proceeded to compare Swain to a spoiled child. "Mrs. Swain is like a spoiled child and now she's having a tantrum."
Baratta said she opposed Wielkotz' re-appointment because she felt it was in the best interest of Fair Lawn, not because it had anything to do with appeasing her boss.
She also said it didn't concern her whether Wielkotz had contributed to Democrats or Republicans in the past.
"I don’t care who somebody gives money to," she said. "If a professional has to give money in order to get a job, they're not a professional I want to have working for me. I want their loyalty to be to the town and to the job that they’re doing, not to one political party or to another political party."
Lerch, Vinci & Higgins, a Fair Lawn-based firm, will replace Wielkotz as the borough's new auditor.