Monday, February 06, 2006

Attorney will Receive $7,500 To Research Mayoral Issue

Over the objections of two Democratic Party stalwarts, the City Council approved spending $7,500 for an attorney to research a dispute over mayoral qualifications.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs won a June 2005 primary and also the 2005 general election, but it is possible that when she filed to run in April 2005 she was short of the city’s special charter requirement that a mayor must have been a “legal voter” in the city for four years prior to election. At the time, nobody challenged her qualifications within the period allotted to do so.

Robinson-Briggs had to vacate her school board seat Jan. 1 when she became mayor and the change revived questions about her residency and voter registration. Republican Municipal Committee Chairwoman Sandy Spector asked the City Council to look into the issue and the response was to hire Angelo Genova, a prominent Democratic lawyer described by Council President Ray Blanco as an expert on election law.

Robinson-Briggs was a registered voter in Plainfield before relocating to Middlesex County, where she was registered from 1996 through the fall of 2002. She registered in Union County in September 2002. The charter does not state whether the registration must be four years immediately prior to election or four years accumulated over time.

Before the council vote Monday (Feb. 6, 2006), Democratic City Committee members Josef and Dottie Gutenkauf both objected to the expenditure.

Josef Gutenkauf said it would accomplish “nothing whatever” because, he said, “The City Council has no role in this matter.”

“Sometimes this body seems to be too easily intimidated,” he said, adding that the council’s response sets a precedent for responding to anyone with a chip on his or her shoulder.

He labeled the expenditure “frivolous,” and his wife, who is the Democrats’ 3rd Ward leader, agreed.

She said the question has been raised through “various blogs, internet squawks and the Courier News,” adding, “It doesn’t make Plainfield look good.“

She cited a section of the state election law that sets limits for contesting elections at no later than 10 days.

“This is three months after the election,“ she said, questioning why the council would authorize spending money for legal advice “when there is no legal issue before the council.“

After the news story on Spector’s challenge, a recent Courier News editorial called for the matter to be dropped.

But when the vote was taken, only Councilman Don Davis voted “no.“
Blanco and council members Linda Carter, Cory Storch, Rayland Van Blake, Rashid Burney and Elliott Simmons voted “yes.“

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: charter


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