Dems Won't Take Baratta, Trawinski to Court Over Perceived Conflict of Interest
On May 3, Fair Lawn council Democrats Lisa Swain and Kurt Peluso called on the mayor and deputy mayor to resign their seats on council due to their county positions.
Democratic council members Lisa Swain and Kurt Peluso, who recently called for the resignation of both the mayor and deputy mayor due to an alleged conflict of interest, won't be taking legal action to have the allegedly conflicted council members' votes thrown out.
Following a May 2 vote to tentatively appoint a new borough auditor, Swain and Peluso released a press statement asserting that both Mayor Jeanne Baratta and Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski's county jobs had imparted an undue influence on their votes to oppose the re-appointment of 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 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.
Baratta and Trawinski have reiterated that their county jobs played no role in their decision to oppose Wielkotz' appointment, adding that they had never supported him in the past, before they started working for the county executive.
Swain and Peluso said they felt compelled to speak out after the auditor vote and will continue to do so any time they feel county government is interfering at the local level. For now, however, legal action is not on the table.
"Not at this point," said Peluso, who along with Swain affirmed that if either were ever elected to higher office or offered a county job while still on borough council that they would immediately resign their municipal seats.
"What kind of a hypocrite would I be for telling people to step down and then I get a county job and I do both?" Peluso said. "There are certain things I have pet peeves about when it comes to government and that’s one of those."
The council will re-evaluate its choice for borough auditor at its work session Tuesday following the discovery that tentatively appointed accounting firm Lerch, Vinci and Higgins had violated the borough's pay-to-play ordinance.