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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.

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Stuart Pace May 04, 2012 at 09:29 PM
I'm saying change the firm every few years, not the employee.
Tommy P May 04, 2012 at 10:00 PM
I am completely okay with the buyer in a short sale. I also understand why a bank would agree to do it, it often makes financial sense. There is a perception that the buyer is taking advantage of the situation. Since Democrats tend to promote class warfare, I just thought it was ironic an elected Democrat is the guy who made the offer the bank accepted which contributed to Tory Coucci not graduating from FLHS. As for socialized medicine, it simply does not make sense.
Bruce Knuckle May 05, 2012 at 12:32 AM
TP, it seems that the short sale and the dismissal of a student gives a glimpse into the workings of the man. Funny how we dont see any other students getting removed from the school system, There are so many more being "overlooked." Is he for whats right for the community or whats right for him? I'm not seeing the benefit to the community that I thought he would present..
Go Figure May 05, 2012 at 01:16 AM
BB: Your answer sounds great...if you are one of those taking those benefits. The bottom line is that no one should take the job to get health benefits when it is a volunteer, and at best a part-time position. That is not a SMALL perk if it costs $17-20,000 a year. I say give them a little more stipend and save the taxpayers some money. Mr. Peluso is trumpeting saving money by taking away some of the employees' jobs while he is taking a rather generous benefit for himself. Very hypocritical if you ask me.
Tommy P May 05, 2012 at 01:33 AM
@Bruce it does not speak to his character, but politically it dosnt look good. And that's what this article is about. Neither of the "double dippers" had those county jobs when they were elected, by voting for Cosgrove, people voted for them to be in the majority which is really the only way the conflict matters as a practical matter. It's an open secret they are not running for reelection, but given party politics and the uncertainty of their replacements, they are not going anywhere voluntarily. As for your serious allegation of theft of service, name names. Either here or with the board of Ed. The council should pass an ordinance which places a heavy fine on the theft along with a bounty payment to the first person to present evidence of the theft.
Tommy P May 05, 2012 at 01:38 AM
It's would take the Republicans a couple of weeks to fix it, simply pass an ordinance classifying them as part timers without benefits, maybe they should.
BellairBerdan May 05, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Go Figure, I question that $20K number. I buy my own health insurance as an individual and it is expensive, but not that much. Normally a group, like the town, can buy it much cheaper. But not everyone gets health insurance benefits from their full time employer (assuming they have one). If you are in the Pohlman camp that you shouldn't be in public service if you find it a financial burden, you're entitled to that opinion. I just don't agree. BTW, Peluso was asking about the elimination of one higher level position.
Go Figure May 05, 2012 at 02:52 AM
BB: First of all I am not in anyone's camp, just Fair Lawn. The figure that I provided came from the articles and discussion I have seen over the last 2 years in council meetings on FL TV. It is too much when you are asking everyone else to sacrifice and saying how you are going to help the taxpayer. And finally Mr. Peluso wanted to cut over 1 million dollars, which meant the loss of more than one position. Did you watch the discussion or read the articles? It's time to start cutting unnecessary part time benefits.
Brent Pohlman May 05, 2012 at 03:06 AM
BB I think our elected officials should be volunteers. Councilwoman swain stated in a public meeting that it cost her money to sit on the council, but should the people of fair lawn be forced to compensate her to be a council person. The simple answer to that is no. That is part of the sacrifice of public service.. The idea of part time elected officials collecting benefits is all the more absurd when those same officials are looking cut services to the citizens of fair lawn. How much more hypocritical can you be then wanting to fire borough employees while keeping ones own benefits. That is just wrong and I think even you know that.
BellairBerdan May 05, 2012 at 03:36 AM
What about going with the Governor's wishes before we do yours, Brent?
Tp+Patch Clown May 05, 2012 at 05:50 AM
"I am completely okay with the buyer in a short sale. I also understand why a bank would agree to do it, it often makes financial sense. There is a perception that the buyer is taking advantage of the situation. Since Democrats tend to promote class warfare, I just thought it was ironic an elected Democrat is the guy who made the offer the bank accepted which contributed to Tory Coucci not graduating from FLHS." so TP let me get this straight, you made that statement because "There is a perception that the buyer is taking advantage of the situation." even though you are "completely okay with the buyer in a short sale" after reading your response you are clearly dumber than i originally thought. get a life... bruce your just as dumb, peluso didnt "kick" them out, he bought a house for the asking price
Tp+Patch Clown May 05, 2012 at 05:54 AM
"TP, it seems that the short sale and the dismissal of a student gives a glimpse into the workings of the man. Funny how we dont see any other students getting removed from the school system, There are so many more being "overlooked." Is he for whats right for the community or whats right for him?" Bruce Schmuckle- last time i checked peluso is not on the BOE and has no control or say in which students get kicked out or overlooked. your comment speaks for your intelligence
Tp+Patch Clown May 05, 2012 at 06:03 AM
"It's would take the Republicans a couple of weeks to fix it,"- theyve been the majority for much more than a couple weeks and all they have done is add service fees for the residents (hidden taxes that christie said he would put an end to)
okie May 05, 2012 at 06:22 AM
BP- does Cosgrove take the benefits?
okie May 05, 2012 at 07:03 AM
@ Bruce- "TP, it seems that the short sale and the dismissal of a student gives a glimpse into the workings of the man" are you claiming mr peluso had anything to do with the declaring the house short sale (even though only the lender can) or the removal of Tory Coucci (which only the BOE can decide). those are some strong accusations and i hope you can provide us with some facts to back that up. anyone who knows anything about real estate or the school system can tell you have no clue what you are talking about.. please entertain me though and support your claim
okie May 05, 2012 at 07:04 AM
when did the dems say that chris?
Tommy P May 05, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Let's pretend the "clown" is new. If I was not the first on this site to criticize the Metzler tax increases aka fee increases, I was second. I have been beating on that drum for months.
Go Figure May 05, 2012 at 12:37 PM
BB: How about we worry about Fair Lawn first!
truthhurts May 05, 2012 at 12:51 PM
It doesn't matter whether or not you feel that the stipend and/or health benefits should be in place, or whether or not a sitting councilmember should or should not take them. BP and the other council hopefuls posting here can run for office on the platform that they will be volunteers by choice, and they want to change the system, but they sound very immature trying to force their opinions on everyone else right now (obviously the campaign has begun). Cosgrove has every right to take them, as do the rest of them. Why? Because they were elected by a majority of voters to that office, and that stipend and those benefits have been part of the job for a long time. It's not as if they just voted in these benefits and a salary for themselves. No one voted for these people assuming that they would waive the stipend or benefits.
truthhurts May 05, 2012 at 01:05 PM
On the contrary, Trawinski and Baratta ran with the slogan Fair Lawn First. This is of course comical at this point. No one voted for them because they wanted them to take a political patronage job that would make them beholden to others, creating huge conflicts of interest and putting Fair Lawn conspicuously second behind their political obligations. If they had these positions before the election they would have been slaughtered at the polls. This is of course why they are not running for reelection. They are willing to give up the small FL stipend and benefits (like they're some kind of hero for doing so) for their 6 figure salaries, cadilac health benefits and huge pensions paid in full by Bergen County taxpayers...taxpayers who never voted for them to have those crony positions, bloated salaries, or obscene pensions and benefits. So on their way out the door to leave Fair Lawn Last and Forgotten, these double dippers will settle all of their boss's political scores, no matter how many lawsuits it brings or how it effects Fair Lawn in the end. They will likely move out of town as they ride off into retirement on the backs of Bergen County taxpayers, who would vote to strip them of those benefits in a heartbeat if they ever had the oportunity. This is why they should be forced to step down now. Recall sounds like a great idea!
Brent Pohlman May 05, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Okie, my understanding is that none of the republican councilmembers take the benefits or stipend.
Brent Pohlman May 05, 2012 at 01:39 PM
TH, to use your own handle...the truth hurts; Can you explain how the mayor is settling a political score for the CE by not reappointing the auditor when the mayor has never voted for this auditor, even going back to before she was employed by the county.
Stuart Pace May 05, 2012 at 02:23 PM
The sad thing is, while the Dems are calling for J & E to resign, they haven't done anything as promised in their campaigns. Everyone get to work and do what you promised. THAT is the supposed reason you were elected. STFU and fix this town.
Tommy P May 05, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Its more entertaining to watch the half truths and drama, too bad they are wasting so much of our money doing it. The opportunity cost of not addressing the overspending at Borough Hall can never be recovered. We have a spending problems, the hole is big and they won't stop digging.
Bruce Knuckle May 05, 2012 at 03:36 PM
@Okie, Short sales are a part of life, and if you ever read my posts on this issue, I have always put the burden on the parents for what happened, however, Peluso is an opportunist. No accusation was made, just an opinion. Apparently, in your world , no one can have a different one than you. His willingness to layoff people without any care shows that he is uncaring. That is an easy quick fix. If he was any good, or if any of them were for that matter, they would work to fix the budget issues instead of ripping each other apart. Trawinski, Barratta, and Swain were there creating this mess, now they want to blame each other. One's an ego maniac, ones a sore loser, and one should feel lucky she ever made it to mayor. Stop with the party line B.S. and see the whole picture. They stink as a governing body. @TP, The BOE knows the names, however, without political pressure, it goes no where.
Bruce Knuckle May 05, 2012 at 03:40 PM
@truthhurts, I will be glad when the double dippers are gone. You seem to forget some truth when it comes to Swain. She was in the majority when all of these lawsuits were coming in. She has done nothing, but help layoff hard working folks, but kept inept leaders such as Chief Rose and Side show Joe. Truth hurts more when the whole story is told. The recall should be for all of them.
truthhurts May 05, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Sure, this is from the Bergen Record: "He (Wielkotz) is the subject of a political and legal fight due to his appointment in March as county auditor by a Republican-controlled Board of Freeholders. He was appointed over the objections of Trawinski, who had said Donovan would not sign the contract. Donovan has contended that the freeholders overstepped their authority, while the freeholders assert that the board has appointed auditors since county voters approved the county executive form of government in 1986. Both sides must appear in court on May 25 to argue the case." Republican infighting. Has nothing to do with the dems. Political score being settled by Thing One and Thing Two on Donovan's behalf...seems pretty clear (and par for her course).
Tommy P May 05, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Bruce you are making a very serious accusation, do you have any details to share? As for Kurt being an opportunist, I don't care what you call someone who works to eliminate waste fraud or abuse. He is absolutely right about the over staffed rec deptartment. We need to encourage our council to do to the right thing by the almost 12,000 who pay the bills. While we need to respect our employees, they are not entitled to those jobs regardless of who they are related to or know. Again Bruce, anything you can share I will ensure gets followed up on. Specifics please.
Tony Sina May 08, 2012 at 11:05 PM
I think the Dems are now demanding Lev Stanik of LaFurniture Corp. be hired to act as borough auditor.
Bruce Knuckle May 08, 2012 at 11:29 PM
TommyP, The BOE has it and is well aware of the issue. If you are that linked in, go to the River Rd bus stop by the school at 3pm. You'll see.I believe the easy way out will be after this school year. Kids can finish the semester before being booted. The BOE needs to do a recheck before next school year. My point is that as an opportunist, Peluso is not looking for the difficult solutions, but rather the quick fixes. The REC is a no brainer, has been for years. I get confused when I see that but not a PD restructure or when I see approval for 2 new fire trucks . And while we are at it, shouldn't Cosgove recuse himself on this vote since he was a fire chief? I question the reasoning behind all of their decision, since the multitude do not make sense. Go ask the auditor what he thinks.

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