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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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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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